The St. Joseph City Council and Police Department face what seems to us to be an easy decision.
Option No. 1: Pull down the red-light cameras placed at two Belt Highway intersections in partnership with a private, for-profit business. Acknowledge the courts have said cities in Missouri have no authority to issue citations they can’t or won’t back up with penalty “points” added to drivers’ licenses.
Option No. 2: Leave the cameras up and continue longing for the day when some majority of legislators decides to pass a new law allowing the collection of fines without any finding that a specific driver did something wrong. Or perhaps, like Kansas City, consider doubling down on intrusive technology by deploying facial recognition software in an effort to meet the law’s requirements.
We choose the first option, and we think it wise for the city to do the same sooner than later.
Something tells us that in the unlikely event red-light cameras ever gain favor from state lawmakers, the vendor will be more than happy to return to our city, assist with getting the equipment reinstalled, and once again start collecting a share of fine money from the driving public.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a division that has formed in America: cities with and without red-light cameras. Seven states currently ban these devices, and others including Florida and Ohio are considering it.
Voters in Houston banned the cameras four years ago after having them for four years. Los Angeles withdrew the cameras after deploying them for more than a decade. San Diego followed. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 32 cities have taken this step since 2012.
The reasons vary: In some locales, such as Los Angeles, the devices were found to be ineffective in improving safety. In others, such as Florida, studies have found an increase in rear-end crashes at the monitored intersections.
And then there is the widely held view these cameras, whatever their impact on driver behaviors, would not exist if not for their ability to produce revenue for the vendor and the cities that use them. In St. Joseph, through the 11 months the cameras were in use, net proceeds to the city totaled nearly $100,000 from 3,100 car owners who were assessed fines.
The cameras’ merits as a safety step will continue to be debated.
Meanwhile, the convenience of being able to issue thousands of tickets at just two intersections — and in the process produce tens of thousands of dollars in revenue — must be reconciled with the reality these citations do not meet a minimal standard of state law.