Groups rally against red light cameras listen04/13/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Protestors from all points on the political spectrum gathered at busy intersections across the state yesterday to rally against red light cameras. The demonstrations come less than a week after Tampa City Council voted to install 20 of them at dangerous intersections throughout the city.
"No accidents here, folks, there's a red light camera! No accidents at this corner."
Tuesday evening, just as rush hour traffic was kicking into full gear, about a dozen protesters assembled at the corner of Dale Mabry and Waters. They had a captive audience at the gridlocked intersection. Protester Ricardo DeForest said the cameras have less to do with boosting safety than boosting government coffers through monitoring citizens.
"The next thing they're going to do is they're going to put a GPS in your car and you go a mile an hour over the speed limit , 'here's your ticket, enjoy it'. When your insurance company finds out, your rates are going to go up. This doesn't end with red light cameras. These people are greedy and they're dangerous."
Several political groups participated in the protest, including the 9-12 Project, the state Libertarian Party, and the Florida Civil Rights Association. Adrian Wyllie of the Libertarian Party of Florida said the issue of red light cameras attracts people from across the political spectrum because it’s one that concerns individual liberties.
"This is one of those issues that crosses party lines because it's really the individual liberties of the citizens of Florida versus a overreaching totalitarian surveillance government. I think people on both sides of the political fence, as well as libertarians, can take a libertarian position on this. And it is that we don't want to live in a world where we're constantly monitored. We don't want to live in an Orwellian utopia where the government's role is to keep us safe, not protect our liberties."
He said that in addition to intangible aspects of the red light camera issue, critics find their constitutionality questionable.
"If you choose to challenge a red light camera ticket, by default it forces you to waive your right to a speedy trial because it requires 60 days before you can actually challenge it. Also, you don't have the right to face your accuser because your accuser is an inanimate object. It's a camera. How do you cross-examine a camera?"
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill granting local governments the right to operate – or continue operating – the cameras. Last week, Tampa City Council approved of their use. Opponents say they increase accidents, since those who see the cameras might slam on their breaks to avoid a ticket, potentially causing a rear-end collision. Law Enforcement Officials say the cameras aim to stop speeders, and have actually reduced the number of accidents with injuries throughout the county. Tampa Assistant Police Chief John Bennett said there’s plenty of evidence showing their effectiveness.
"We looked at Hillsborought County which, of course, is one of the best opportunities to get local data against the empirical data that we use from other agencies our size around the nation, they showed a 50 percent reduction in injury related crashes from a red light run in the six intersections that they're using in over two years. We just thought that really iced the cake for us as far as understanding the local impact and benefit of having total enforcement."
Those accused of running a red light will get a $158 ticket in the mail. The city or county gets $75 of that, and state and two health-related trust funds also get a cut. Critics like the Florida Libertarian Party’s Adrian Wyllie think the cameras are just another way for local governments to generate revenue.
"The state's making a lot of money, the cities are making a lot of money and the contractors who install these cameras are making a lot of money and they're doing it on the back of the citizens of Florida."
But Bennett said that’s far from the truth, and that the cameras are just another tool for enhancing public safety.
"I think it's important for the taxpayers and the community to understand that we're going to look at this program in the best interest of public safety. We're not going to go out there and just get red light running tix on a list to increase fines or do anything like that. Our pure interest is reducing crashes."
Currently two bills in the state legislature – one in the house and one in the senate – would ban them. Both are still in committee. Wyllie said it’s vital to support them, and that a society that monitors its citizens can never be free.
"Sometimes being free means accepting some inherent risks in life. It's not the government's job to mitigate all risk. That's what being a free society is."
There are red light cameras at six intersections throughout Hillsborough County. The Tampa ordinance would boost that by 20.