It’s been more than five years since St. Joseph and other cities pulled the plug on red-light cameras.
Outside of police and city revenue collectors, few seemed to object to the decision to shelve the technology. For red-light cameras, the nub of the problem was one of both technology and legalities.
The camera would decipher which car ran the red light, but not necessarily who was behind the wheel. So who gets points assessed on the license?
We detect little support for another crack at red-light cameras, but the last five years brought tremendous advancement to facial recognition technology that could close the information gap between who licensed the vehicle and who’s actually driving it. But this technology, used in China to create a surveillance state that makes East Germany look amateurish, conjures of fears of Big Brother.
It’s a moot point for now, because cities like St. Joseph lack the financial means for significant deployment of facial recognition, for traffic enforcement or finding criminal suspects and missing persons. Long term, however, law enforcement can take solace in interesting findings from Pew Research.
Public opinion polling shows that more Americans trust law enforcement with facial recognition than technology companies or private businesses. At a time when some cities are banning facial recognition and Edward Snowden suggests a future with automated police officers, a Pew report finds that 56 percent of Americans trust police with this technology. When it’s used for advertising or marketing purposes, that public support for this technology falls to 15 percent.
This does not mean it’s time to put a camera on every lamppost. It does mean city, state and federal lawmakers should take the initiative to consider laws and regulations that create proper controls and oversight, rather than just trying to stuff the genie in the bottle. That means having a discussion on how the technology is used and how data is shared and saved. It also means police and city government should do everything possible to build trust with the public, especially in the way that revenue is collected for traffic violations.
Some jurisdictions send traffic ticket revenue directly to local schools, rather than a city or police department. This would ease concerns that a red-light camera, or any type of traffic enforcement, is a revenue-generating initiative. Advanced technology will only gain acceptance if it’s seen as a means to increased public safety, rather than additional city revenue.
Your phone probably packs more punch today than the 2014 version. It would be foolish to think that the demise of red-light cameras means that we’re forever stuck in the past, like a radio station that plays hits from another era.