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Traffic Cameras and Bill of Rights

May 24, 2000

Regarding "Red-Light Runners, Your Photos Are Ready," May 3:

I am quoted in Jeanne Wright's piece on traffic cameras as a speaker on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Wright quotes Sgt. John Gambill of the Los Angeles Police Department, who says, in justifying videotape surveillance by the police, that law-abiding people "are being photographed every time they walk into a bank, go to an ATM or buy a Slurpee at 7-Eleven."

However, Wright did not publish my responsive quote, which pointed out that there is a significant and constitutional difference between acts by the government and acts by an individual or private group. The Bill of Rights is a limitation on the government, not on private citizens. The Bill of Rights does not preclude you from taping but does act as a limitation on government.

It is also interesting to note a few other things outside of the framework of my prior comments on the Bill of Rights:

* When a police officer personally gives a ticket to a person, that ticket is also a summons to appear in court and legal service of that summons. But under the photo program, tickets will be sent by first-class mail. How does the city prove that a person has been given a summons? It presumes delivery. But, as we all know, the mail doesn't always arrive, or a roommate may not give it to you, or the dormitory mail room may lose it, or it may simply be lost. This could be fundamentally unfair to the driver.

* When a police officer stops someone and writes a ticket, the individual is aware that a ticket has been given and of the facts surrounding the ticket. This gives the individual a fair chance to defend himself or herself. But when the ticket is mailed days or even weeks later, the individual may not even recall the day of the ticket, let alone the circumstances. If you pass through an intersection daily, try remembering what happened at that intersection even today. It is fundamentally unfair to ask an individual to defend a ticket under those circumstances.

* This program is expected to raise $7 million a year for the city of Los Angeles. Why not use the money to hire traffic officers? It is better for enforcement and fairer. Of course, if the city did not face the enormous liability of the Rampart Division police scandal, hiring more officers would be simple, but even with that, $7 million will buy a significant and fair program, and, in addition, those officers can do more than just monitor traffic if needed.


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