Compiled by NMA Foundation Director James C. Walker and NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn
The ATE Racket Report is a weekly feature of the NMA blog. We want to bring the issues of automated traffic enforcement to our supporters in a more coherent up-to-date fashion.
This Past Week…
–The largest operator of automated traffic cameras, American Traffic Solutions has gone public. Gores Holding II announced in June that they would merge with ATS and combined, the two companies would now be called and publicly listed on the NASDAQ as Verra Mobility. In full disclosure before going public, ATS revealed that revenue from 2017 was at $138 million, boasting a 46 percent market share in red-light cameras, 48 percent in bus cameras and 55 percent in speed cameras.
–Our friends at TheNewspaper.com posted an article online this week about a Maryland DOT study that shows how researchers game automated traffic camera studies.
–Glendale, Arizona’s city council decided last week to stop their red-light camera program. The reason: a new state law takes effect in August which no longer allows private companies to issue tickets but instead, tickets must be issued by law enforcement. Glendale police chief says that this change would be a huge undertaking for his department because he would likely have to hire a full-time employee for each red-light camera currently in use due to the thousands of photos taken each month.
–A pilot program using Amazon’s facial recognition software called Rekognition by the Orlando, Florida police Department has been shelved. Earlier in June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 89 other groups protested the sale of the system to police officers. Amazon Web Services says this was a pilot project and is now over. The company continues working with the Washington County, Washington sheriff’s office on a similar pilot project using the software. Over 100 Amazon employees also recently signed a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to not sell Rekognition software to police departments. Shareholders also got involved in letter writing and wrote this:
“While Rekognition may be intended to enhance some law enforcement activities, we are deeply concerned it may ultimately violate civil and human rights. We are also concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionally target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations…sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”
—Google has decided to withdraw from Project Maven, a US Defense Department initiative that applies artificial intelligence tools to analyzing drone footage. More than 4,000 Google employees signed a petition calling for the end of the contract, citing the company’s history of not working on military projects and worries about autonomous weapons.
Wait and See…
–A Lexington, KY paper editorial urges the city to end its secrecy over surveillance cams. Activist and founder of We See You Watching Lexington, Michael Maharrey requested information about the surveillance cams under the KY Open Records Act. Maharrey asked for documents on the number of technologies the city was using. The city denied the request. The American Civil Liberties Union became involved and took the city to court. On June 19, Fayette Circuit Court Judge John Reynolds ruled the following:
- No criminal investigations, police officers or confidential informants would be at risk by revealing how much tax money has been spent buying the surveillance cams or disclosing camera models/manuals.
- Nor does the info fall under Homeland Security Exemptions.
The local paper urges the city not to appeal the ruling.
—Newly elected New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell won on a platform of getting rid of automated traffic enforcement in the city. Now, reality has set in and the city is a doing a deep study on all ATE in the city. The city’s police department is already projecting at least $9.2 million in new spending for 2019 due to pay raises. In the 2018 budget, cameras will increase its revenue by 17 percent for a projected total of $25.2 million. Let’s hope the mayor can keep her promise.
–Rhode Island General Assembly passed on June 23 a bill that would tighten school zone speed camera regulations. After passage, the bill was headed to the Governor’s desk. The bill was in response to the Providence ticket disaster earlier this year. Here are some of the highlights of the bill:
- Mandate more signage for automated school zone speed enforcement system locations
- Cameras would only be able to operate Monday through Friday between 7 AM and 6 PM.
- Cameras would not operate between July 1 and August 15.
- Ticket fees would go down to $50 instead of the current $95.
- Violations would be expunged from court records every three years from date of the offense.
- Violation cannot be reflected on a person’s driving record.
This is still bad news of course but at least the tickets are a bit saner for drivers.
–Chino, California city council voted last week to spend $1.1 million additional dollars to capture driver’s license plate data. Thirteen additional intersections will have the ALPRs mounted with a total of 81 cameras. Last August, the city purchased and later installed 35 ALPRs for 11 intersections. City Manager Rad Bartlam said that now every entry and exit point to the city will be covered.
—Rio Rancho, New Mexico police are now using ALPR technology. Two cruisers have the devices which can photograph license plates from multiple lanes of traffic. The scanned images then go directly to the National Crime Information Center and if there’s a hit, the officer is alerted via computer. Since March, police have recovered two stolen vehicles and a stolen license plate.
–An official for the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina said recently in an interview that red-light cameras fail to deter crashes but the system is a success anyway. A success in pulling lots of cash on the backs of drivers for the city coffers…you betcha!
—Beaverton, Oregon announced that they will now be using speed cams and red-light cameras in the same intersections.
–The Tacoma, Washington city council has switched red-light camera vendors and are touting that the new company will be better at catching motorists.
NMA’s City and State Lists of RLCs and speed cameras
The NMA has compiled a list of which states and cities are using red-light and speed cameras. This may not be a complete list and please send any additions or subtractions to the firstname.lastname@example.org for updating the list.
Jim Walker’s ATE Commentary of the Week
TheNewspaper.com analysis shows how to manipulate data to achieve conclusions that are opposite the long run of reality. It is why legitimate traffic safety research that can be trusted should always be done by neutral and unbiased professional analysts – NOT by groups like state and local government organizations and insurance industry sources that are in the revenue stream from the for-profit camera rackets.
With Glendale, AZ stopping red-light cameras, there are now only 6 operative camera rackets in Arizona. This is ironic as AZ is the home of both ATS and Redflex. Citizens are increasingly aware the cameras are rackets and are saying NO to continuing.
Facial recognition might be a very effective tool to fight real crime, but we agree with the ACLU there are many ways it CAN AND WILL be used abusively without strict controls.
The bill in Rhode Island to restrict some parts of the school zone speed camera racket will help, but they are not enough. For example, if all the kids are in class at 10 AM or 1 PM, what is the justification for a school zone camera ticket with ZERO kids at risk? When school ends by 3 or 4 PM, what is the justification for a school zone ticket at 5:30 PM after all the kids have left the school area some time before? The reduction in the loot from $95 to $50 per ticket may make the system far less profitable – maybe enough so that many fewer cameras would be used. The added signage is helpful, but not to the point of flashing signs just before the cameras that would likely cut the ticketing rates enough to make the cameras lose money and be removed.
Oregon and Washington are both very predatory with ticket cameras, though they have fewer total programs. It is quite a contrast with California which now has only 29 operative programs in a state which once had over 100 programs.
James C. Walker is a life member of the National Motorists Association. He is also a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation.