It's no secret that I am opposed to red-light and speed cameras. Any time I write about it or talk about it on the radio, I am inundated with comments from people who argue the point that if you are not breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to these instruments.
So I wanted to clarify - my issue with these cameras is NOT whether or not people who break the law (either speeding or running a red light) deserve to be caught and 'punished' for doing so.
My issue is the method by which we are enforcing our traffic laws.
We all agree that people should not speed and should not run red lights - and that they should operate their vehicles in such a manner to avoid being in violation of these and other traffic laws.
I do not believe these cameras were instituted for the 'safety' of the intersections, as claimed, especially with the city citing decreased revenues from camera violations as one of the reasons why we're facing a budget deficit in Toledo, as well as other methods that can increase safety without presenting such issues (like longer yellow lights and 'all red' times).
In the United States, you have a presumption of innocence. The prosecution in a case has to prove, in a open court to a jury (if you so choose), that you are guilty of the violation under which you have been accused. With the rules for Toledo's red light and speed cameras, the owner of the car is presumed guilty. Furthermore, your only defense to the accusation is to name someone else as the guilty party. Additionally, in Toledo, the hearings are not open to the public.
We should rightly question the objectivity of a hearing system whereby the recipient of the fines controls the hiring of the hearing officer, the contract for the instruments, the access to the evidence, and then refuses to allow the public to observe.
For those who see nothing wrong with such a set-up, I must ask: should the city be able to do the same with a photograph of a get-away car in a bank robbery? We all agree that the person shouldn't be robbing a bank or helping with robbing a bank. But would you support a system that presumes the guilt of the owner of a vehicle based upon such a photograph? Would you support a presumption of guilt for that person with the only defense being to name the driver if it wasn't the accused? Would you support imposing the penalty for such a crime without a court hearing that was open to the public?
This is the battle that is being waged over the traffic enforcement cameras - it's the process, not whether or not running a red light or speeding through an intersection is a bad thing.
The real question is this: should cities be able to avoid the due process rights of accused violators of a law just so they can increase the revenue to their coffers? And if you say 'yes' to this for traffic cameras, what's next?