The Denver City Council voted this week to extend the current use of red light and photo radar speed cameras, with the potential of expanding the program in six months.
While the cameras are very unpopular among citizens, the cameras are very popular among police and city council members.
Police officials have been quick to point out safety benefits of the camera systems. City Council representatives are also quick to use that same reason to justify and expand the program.
But what cannot be denied is the fact that these systems are cash cows for cities. Denver has made over $34 million over five years, with the majority of that money coming from the photo radar systems.
The money made from the program seems to be brushed under the rug when public officials discuss this issue.
But if safety was the key reason for these systems, and not money, why wouldn’t warnings be issued instead of automatic tickets?
No city council people seem to bring up that point.
A great example that this debate really is populism versus profit is how the bill in last year’s legislature which would have banned red light camera systems was killed at the last moment after pressure from metro area mayors.
City officials continually point to the safety reasons to keep or expand photo radar and red light cameras. I’m not going to argue those statistics, but there are other ways to create safer intersections than with technology that is unforgiving and costly.
Personally, I’ve received warnings from police officers when I’ve committed a driving violation. Even without a ticket, I’ve learned effective lessons from those warnings and I’m a better driver for it without having to spend hundreds of dollars on those lessons.
I’m grateful that the police officers that pulled me over were not simply computers and cameras that would have sent me a ticket in the mail.
I think city officials can win the safety point, but they will continue to look like cynics that are only in it for the money if they do not promote ways to use the technology to issue warnings for first or minor violations.
If officials continue to back the programs that strictly enforce the laws beyond what most in-person officers would enforce, then the public will continue to fight to prohibit the programs.
Eventually, citizens will get upset enough to exert the pressure needed to pass the idea in the legislature. And if that didn’t work, it wouldn’t be crazy to see it appear on a statewide ballot sometime soon.
If city councils in the metro area want to keep their cash cows, it would be best that they moderate the systems or they may find citizens will kill the golden goose themselves.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.