Mr. Hickenlooper, tear down those cameras!

OP-ED: Mr. Hickenlooper, tear down those cameras!

Jonathan Lockwood
The Colorado Statesman
July 21, 2015

Big government and special interests have ganged up on Colorado drivers in an effort to fill up their own bank accounts at the expense of ours. Questionable evidence that red light cameras improve safety, coupled with charges of corruption, cast doubt on the real motivations behind the use of these devices.

Earlier this summer, House Bill 1098, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, overwhelmingly passed in both the Colorado House and Senate. The bill proposed that no jurisdiction could implement a new photo enforcement program without submitting the question to the local voters first. Another bill, Senate Bill 276, which was an outright ban on camera-issued citations, with the exception of tolls, was passed by wide margins of 38-25 in the House and 25-10 in the Senate.

Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed both these bipartisan bills earlier this summer, defying members of his own party and legislators from the majority of the state.

Hickenlooper claims his priority is to keep the streets safe and that traffic cameras aid in this objective. A study out of Chicago and others like it, actually come to a different conclusion: red light cameras cause an increase in accidents and therefore endanger more drivers. With some studies supporting both sides of this safety argument, many suspect the real motivation is revenue. Red light cameras increase accidents, and they increase money for government to spend.

Denver collects $6.5 million a year in fines from red-light cameras. Denver’s cameras target drivers for minor infractions, such as ticketing vehicles that stop with their front wheels slightly over the white line at intersections. In 2011, this revenue-enhancing strategy increased citations by 465 percent, according to The Denver Post. And while Denver generates $6.5 million of revenue a year, Redflex could have pocketed up to $1.1 million annually when it had the contract (another company has taken over Denver’s contract). Last year, Fort Collins raked in more than $650,00 in ticket revenue and paid Redflex nearly 60 percent of that total. Now that’s a “public-private partnership” plundering Colorado drivers that only a crony could love.

Not only are red light cameras highly questionable with respect to safety vs. revenue, but now the entire process has come under fire for corruption. Reports of bribery by the red light camera company, Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., have sparked outrage and legislative action to take them down across the country. Karen Finley, the former CEO of Redflex, has been indicted on federal corruption charges. Redflex employees, including Finley, stand accused of showering government officials in up to 13 states, including possibly Colorado, with lavish gifts and fancy dinners, in the hope that officials would sign contracts with Redflex. Who in Colorado has received bribes like these? One way we might find out is from a Department of Justice probe that could extend into Colorado.

While we sit and wait, we must keep the red light camera debate alive. The Colorado Statesman reported that state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, plans to introduce a bill next session aimed at red light camera reform. The bill, however, according to state Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, is a “non-starter.” Many now wonder if the bill proposed by Lebsock is action, or lack thereof. Some say the bill will curb the cronyism, yet others dub the bill as simply government-as-usual.

Lebsock’s aim with the bill is to get something that fits more in line with what Hickenlooper wants in terms of red light camera reform. Lebsock says his bill would limit red-light camera use and photo radar systems to school and construction zones and “major artery roads.” This sounds to many like a first step, but it is more of a tip-toe. It shouldn’t be about what the governor wants; it should be about what Coloradans want. Coloradans don’t want legislation that will do very little to create change, they want to put an end to the corrupt and unsafe practice of red light cameras.

Coloradans must continue to be outraged, stand up and speak out about abusive government practices. We must remain vocal and demand a solution from lawmakers to tear down these cameras, not sit at a red light waiting forever for change.

Jonathan Lockwood is the executive director of Advancing Colorado, a free market advocacy group.