January 12, 2006

Police state

Dispatch/Argus photo by Terry Herbig

A white Chevy Astro van parked on the side of major roads and permanent mounted speed cameras will be watching for lead-footed drivers starting Tuesday.

The van and the cameras will be the first installment of the city's "No Need for Speed" program, which aims to reduce the number of speed-related accidents.

"If we have the same reduction in speed-related accidents as we have in red-light accidents, I think everyone will be very appreciative," police Chief Mike Bladel said.

Chief Bladel said the van can be moved around to high traffic areas, including residential and school areas. Someone from the police department will be inside the van using a laser and camera to nab speeders. The officer will not be pulling anyone over, but a ticket will be sent to the owner, just like with the mounted cameras.

Permanent cameras will be at the intersections of Brady Street and Kimberly Road, and Harrison Street at 35th Street.

Other sites for fixed cameras are planned for mid-block areas of the 2700 block of Brady Street, the 2900 block of Harrison Street and the 1300 block of East River Drive.

Davenport is the first city in Iowa to use speed cameras, according to Jack Weaver of Redflex, the company that owns the cameras. The city paid nothing for the cameras, Chief Bladel said. Redflex will get a share of the finess and the city's share is earmarked for traffic safety purposes.

For the first 90 days, the cameras will only be ticketing drivers going more than 12 mph over the posted speed limit. After that, tickets will be issued to drivers caught going 10 mph over the limit in residential areas and 8 mph over in school zones.

The laser in the van and the posted cameras are accurate up to 1 mph over or under the speed of the vehicle, Mr. Weaver said.

The speed cameras will work similarly to the cameras the city put at five major intersections to catch drivers who don't stop at red lights.

As civil infractions, violations will not count against the car owner's driver's record or be reported to car insurance companies and can be challenged in district court.

The speeding citations will show a close-up photo of the license plate, where the laser focused on the vehicle, and a full photo of the vehicle. Each infraction will be video-recorded, just like the red-light violations, so people can review the incident if they want to contest the ticket.

Aldermen authorized the use of the speed cameras in August, one year after the police department began using red-light cameras.

Chief Bladel said the red-light cameras are beginning to cut down on the number of accidents at the five intersections where they are posted, from an average of 26 a year to half that, police records show.

Now, he hopes the same will be true for speed-related accidents.

The intersections with red-light cameras are Harrison and 35th streets, Brady Street and Kimberly Road, Welcome Way and Kimberly Road, and Kimberly Road and Elmore Avenue. A camera now at the intersection of Division and 4th streets will be moved to Locust Street and Lincoln Avenue.

All the red-light cameras will be upgraded to allow their use as speed cameras, too, according to the police department.

While some may fear additional cameras peering down on drivers is another step toward a Big Brother-like society, Chief Bladel said the cameras aren't an invasion of privacy. The cameras won't be taking a photo of the driver and won't be used to spy on drivers.

"You want an invasion of privacy? How about an officer knocking on your door at 2 in the morning saying your son or daughter was killed by a speeder or someone who ran a red light," he said. "All they have to do is obey the speed limit and not run a red light and this isn't an issue with them."

Where the cameras are

Where cameras will be watching in the next two months:

- Brady Street at Kimberly Road, northbound

- Harrison Street at 35th Street, southbound

- 2700 block of Brady Street, northbound

- 2900 block of Harrison Street, southbound

- 1300 block of East River Drive, westbound

- Two or more additional cameras could be added in the future

What it will cost:

- 1-7 mph: $5

- 8-11 mph: $45

- 12-20 mph: $65

- 21-25 mph: $85

- 26-30 mph: $95

- 31-35 mph: $110

- 36-40 mph: $125

- Over 40 mph: $150

There's something very troubling about the continued trend of police departments to turn into more para-military spying agencies than public safety departments.

Where they once responded to complaints and ticketed traffic violations they observed, they're now increasingly automating the process and focusing on increased ticketing, and revenue, from ordinary motorists.

They continually ask for, and receive, more and more and more high tech equipment developed for the military. They are insatiable, with each new toy that appears suddenly becoming the "must-have" item, and city administrators far too willing to give it to them.

They've got night vision scopes, all kinds of military equipment as if they're preparing for an invasion, and increasingly, are spending hundreds of thousands on equipment designed to spy on citizens. All under the umbrella of "fighting crime".

I don't recall an enormous crime wave sweeping the area, yet they continue to demand and get ever increasing amounts of equipment which extends their capabilities far beyond anything ever envisioned for a police department at any time in history.

Add to this the fact that Moline appears to have one police officer for every 12 residents, and has about as many un-marked vehicles, including the trendy use of huge gas-guzzling SUVs, as they do traditional squad cars, and it's cause for concern. I even saw what appeared to be a full size pick-up truck (unmarked of course) outfitted as a squad car the other day.

I'm not arguing that crooks should be able to get away with their crimes, but all this raises questions about the enormous cost of all these gadgets vs what benefit they actually provide, and whether they're even needed or justified. It also seems that cops are increasingly trying to be in the position to just become ticket machines. Hell, if I were a cop, I wouldn't like this at all, as it's basically replacing cops with machines, in essence.

I think most people accept the deal that if they're caught speeding or violating a traffic law, that's the way it goes and they pay the penalty.

But when you're going to get ticketed for going 7 miles an hour over the limit even if there's not a car around on a sunny day, something doesn't seem right.

What's next? Devices in all our vehicles which will report to the cops if we go a few miles an hour over the limit? If we don't come to a complete stop at a stop sign?

There's already devices being installed in newer cars which function much the way "black boxes" do on aircraft, monitoring speed, and other functions. They are impossible to remove as the car will not work without them.

And what about the corporate factor in all this? It appears that the companies are dreaming up ever better ways for municipalities to rake in the dough, and providing this stuff for nothing in exchange for a cut. Is that in any way proper?

Are all these high-tech measures and para-military equipment actually making the public any safer? Or are they just fancy toys for cops who increasingly seem to consider themselves more soldiers than police?

Anyone else think this trend is very disturbing?


At 1/12/2006 5:44 PM, Anonymous jcb said...

Ike warned about the "military-industrial complex" and has been (sadly) ignored.

Now the "police-industrial complex" makes its appearance.

Some of the high-tech stuff does provide valuable assistance to departments that are chronically understaffed, but, as in the case of the Davenport redlight/speed cameras it's mostly just a money-machine.

Yeah, the trend is disturbing.

At 1/12/2006 11:27 PM, Anonymous SeniorEditor said...

We are on the slippery slope.

At 1/13/2006 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat troubled by all this, but mostly because I see it as a very uneven move towards increased accountability. That is, you and I are increasingly held accountable for whatever our transgressions may be, but those in power aren't similarly exposed for their faults. Increased accountability for all, that I might be in favor of.

At 1/13/2006 12:17 PM, Anonymous romkey said...

This is a disturbing trend and it needs a lot more attention here and elsewhere. The press (that would be me) is way too quick to swallow the official party line on this stuff. If I wanted Big Brother looking over my shoulder, I'd get a nice house in Moscow -- and I don't mean Moscow, Iowa.

At 1/13/2006 12:26 PM, Anonymous Ignatius T. Riley said...

A very good point anon. I wouldn't have believed that I'd be taking a traditionally libertarian stance on an issue, but I truly feel that the pendulum has swung far too far to one side on this.

Will the law, and politicians, simply continue to pass more and more and more onerous laws governing our every move, and then continue to snap up each new invention designed to snare everyone who violates these often petty offenses?

There is something inherently wrong about the direction the things mentioned in the post above are leading.

When cops begin to look like a cross between Ninjas and covert assault troops, something is a little out of whack, particularly in areas such as ours.

How long before the police expect Hummers for their squad cars?

To the municipalities and states, these tactics and methods only represent dollar signs. It's time that they realize the real hardship that this rampant over-enforcement will cause average people.

At 1/13/2006 12:37 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Romkey... just re-read the article and at least two obvious questions came to mind that the reporter either didn't ask or didn't get an answer to.

The first is, just what is the cut that this "Redflex" company is taking from the fines collected?

And the piece said that after Redflex gets their cut, the rest of the income is "earmarked for traffic safety purposes."

Such as what? Isn't that pretty broad? That could mean just about anything, including buying more of this stuff from Redflex or paying more overtime for extra cops or .... the point is, who knows?

In this respect, the press is often guilty of not really being a pain in the ass as they sometimes should.

I realize that it makes the often harried reporter's job that much tougher, and there may be pressure from above to not "rock the boat" with advertisers or political types, but I'm sure that most reporters still consider their responsibility to be to their readers first and foremost (though maybe behind the guy that signs their checks).

I don't like to generalize, but it seems that more and more what the public is given as "news" is basically warmed over press releases.
As some have noted of even top reporters at major papers as well as TV journalism, they're often more stenographers than reporters.

Would you agree?

At 1/13/2006 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is extremely easy to beat this type of ticket in court. Your easiest defense is to simply throw the ticket away. If it does not come with a return receipt that requires a signature, there is no proof that you actually got the ticket and they cannot prosecute you on that. What the legal system wants you to do is just send in the fine and not ask any questions. This can be a big money maker for some communities. One other form of defense to utilize on your behalf is the fact that when you are accused in court you must be faced by your accuser. Obviously the computer cannot appear in court as a defense method for the prosecution. Also, you do not have to identify yourself as the driver of the vehicle because it would violate your sixth amendment rights against self incrimination."

At 1/15/2006 1:37 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon, I wouldn't exactly bet on those defense tactis, though they seem on the face of it to have some merit.

I'd imagine that the law accepts valid, certified readouts from these cameras as satisfying the "confronting the witnesses against you" provision.
After all, they've been using radar guns for years now, and I don't believe they bring them into court, do they?

As far as maintaining that you never received the ticket, I imagine that they've jiggered the law to say that the fact that they mailed it is somehow considered legal proof that you received it, and at least that saying you didn't receive it is not a defense. They may not do anything if you don't respond, but if you get picked up again, it will likely show up on your record and you'll be charged with it at that time.

As far as not being forced to identify yourself as the driver, again, I'd say that the court might say that they don't care who was driving, as long as it was your car with your tag on it.

I'm not in any way certain, but this is just my guess. Could any lawyers or others provide answers to these questions?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home