Monday, October 13, 2008

My NYC New Revenue Proposal: The Civilian Ticket Patrol

Okay, I am preparing myself for a veritable FLOOD of comments, not to mention people with pitchforks and torches outside of my door. Damn! I think they’re here. Read fast!

In the recent blog entry I’d posted about congestion pricing, I did something out of literati-wanna-be character for myself. I panned a plan without offering an alternative solution. I did so to stay on topic, of course, but also because I’d already skull-numbed Chappy and Bullet with two epic posts in a week. I’m sure the slight misuse of the oh so common words “autocentric” and “nary” didn’t help with flow. This blog entry will, in fact, offer one alternative solution to raising revenue in NYC whilst curtailing traffic and gridlock in Manhattan proper, if not the city at large. But, the content of this suggestion will doubtlessly ruffle enough feathers that there’ll be a virtual dirt nap in my blogging future. Here Lies Pockets, Rest In Pants.

A great number of cities and townships in the states now boast everyone’s favorite traffic control device, the red light camera, otherwise known as the Ticket Camera or #@!$%^&^%!! If you are unfamiliar, count your blessings and your money. This is a camera or set of cameras automatically snapping photos at an intersection with the express purpose of ticketing driver’s who violate red traffic signals. Photos are snapped, the license plate is captured in the image, and a high-priced summons arrives in the registrant driver’s mail along with a photo of her/his alleged infraction some time after. Gotcha! “But that was a harmless night of chicken plucking, birch beer, and the Wu Tang Clan. I can’t believe those bastards did this to me!”

Absent from common knowledge was the manner in which age-old laws and rules of law enforcement in many states had to radically change to allow for the devices. To use one east coast county as our looking glass, it had always been procedure that reports of crimes and violations could reach a sector car in one of three ways. A call could come in via police radio. A bystander could run up to the car and point officers in the direction of a crime taking place or a person in need. The cops could react to witnessing a crime themselves while on patrol, pretty much necessary for lesser moving violations. This permissible three-fer procedure helped to prevent corruption. Limiting the initiating sources made it difficult to manufacture false evidence convincingly. Requiring that written reports begin factually with one of only three starting points made it far more difficult to take random or rogue action. For the same token, the three-pronged procedure also quelled the bearing of false witness by citizens. A person would have a more difficult time pinning a false crime report on the neighbor kid who porked his daughter if the process had to begin by talking to the police. A person couldn’t run up with a trick photo of a banker boffing a zebra in the playground without the promise of cops investigating. In all three cases, however, it was expected of cops to be PRESENT to bear out the proper response action. They had to go to where the infraction was taking place. They had to get on-scene. In fact, an officer’s written report or summons, the sole official document of each such event, was so predicated upon the importance of an authority figure’s first hand knowledge of an incident, that almost any contradictory claim was readily dismissed and lack of proper police report could make or break one’s argument in court.

Well, the red light camera has no such police presence. While the photo itself still goes through law enforcement personnel before ever reaching an accused’s mailbox, the photo is no longer first-hand knowledge, but barley second-hand knowledge. In fact, given the boundaries of a photograph, it is a limited second hand knowledge at that. It’s like a slutty reputation in high school or a belief that Dr. Pepper contains prune juice. Sure, all knowledge is limited, but clearly the minor point here is that a photograph will always be more limited than the knowledge of an officer on-scene. In some cases, under older law, some red light camera photos would prove little different than hearsay. Seesaw?

Thus, in many states, this required direct change to major legislation. For some other states and counties it meant simple additions to laws. For still others it meant finding adjudicative justifications within existing bodies of law when legislation was slow to change. Some places simply shifted the onus of clear determination from the law enforcement level to an already backlogged judicial level, people showing up to fight all sorts of red light camera photos only to predominantly lose in the end. “Yes, I did run the red light, but as you can see in the photo, my penis was caught in the vent window!” What’s more, legislation change was not the limit to problems with red light camera philosophy. For instance, unlike a parking ticket where a vehicle is still, is it not counter-intuitive to presume true witness to a MOVING VIOLATION in a STILL photograph? The legal shift, middlingly justified by a government attempt to make roads safer, is certainly one in favor of big brother, big government, big revenue, and tech’ solutions over human ones.

It is because of these inherent fallacies in red light camera programs, that while acknowledging noticeable decreases in traffic accidents at equipped intersections, I have to disagree on a fundamental level with their application.

Don’t hoist me as the hero just yet. You are about to hate the playa.

What if, just what if, despite my distaste for red light camera programs, I asserted a newer, wider application of these changes in law? No, not stoning. Well…

My chief argument against congestion pricing in the post noted earlier was that it punishes the people already doing the correct thing, an unjust act of wrongfulness no matter how one explains its “need.” If I purport my assertion to be a blockbusting bill-killer in all future congestion pricing proposals, then I need to acknowledge my claim’s inverse. I need to support ideas which only punish wrongdoers and spare already error-free commuters any hassle. I have such an idea. I like it. I call it the Civilian Ticket Patrol. Bum--ba-duh-dump.

If our legislation has already been eased to allow "police absence / tech’ presence" style evidence in the form of still pictures, then it is not that far of a leap to do something similar with motion pictures. Video cameras can easily capture far more moving violation types than a still camera. Illegal u-turns, blown stop-signs, failures to yield, failures to signal, equipment violations, one-way street violations, illegal turns, fender-benders, these can all be SEEN on video. Video devices mounted in the grills and on the dashboards of police vehicles already do this during routine traffic stops. One merely needs to check out The World’s Scariest Police Chases or Cops to see how many precincts and sheriff’s offices use this tool to great evidentiary achievement. Well, instead of "police absence / tech’ presence," why not "police absence / citizen-tech’ presence?"

I reluctantly propose that we implement a system whereby city citizens with registered, insured, personal vehicles can choose to have their vehicles outfitted with similar motion picture capture devices at no charge. The system would need to be a closed system that disallows tampering. A driver’s only interface with the system would be a keypad that marks a starting and ending video time index to bracket a moving violation they’ve just witnessed, and perhaps a wireless upload switch to the police department or an ejectable, lockbox media to mail-in to the police. The device would need to be well hidden for citizen safety. The interface component would only work when the Citizen Patroller had her/his own vehicle parked, again with regard to safety. Video would be automatically time and date stamped and uniquely coded with the video capture unit number. Ejectable lockbox media would not be accepted at the police department if it showed any signs of breakage or tampering. I would suggest a wide angle lens set with a focal point broad enough to pick up street signs and oncoming cars. I'd also suggest a GPS feature to further add to the information gathered.

On the front end, citizen selection for the program would be key. Interested parties would be put on a waiting list. Nobody with outstanding parking or moving violations, criminal records or warrants would be eligible. No one without a current driver’s license would be eligible. Nobody with pending court cases would be eligible. Nobody with orders of protection or orders of protection against them or other legal documentation implying potential grudges would be eligible. No hunchbacks. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Participant citizens would receive training on the interface, training on what constitutes a moving violation, training on recognizing non-viable video capture (both technologically and with regard to the law), and training on safe use of the tool (CTP procedure). Citizen’s would NOT be pulling cars over or issuing tickets themselves. Citizen’s would NOT be patrolling, but merely capturing moving violations in their day-to-day doings around the neighborhood. Jeez, Louise, I “happen” across 10 creative moving violations a day just going from my apartment to the babysitter’s place. Good evidence, chained properly and resulting in adjudication against a violator would yield a percentage of the revenue collected on the ticket back to the video capturing citizen’s pocket. Money! Money taken from the “bad people” and given to the “good people.” Holy cow, I’m Robin Hood!

On the back end, more cops/legal officials would need to take more time to witness the video captured evidences. (Video takes longer to see than a photo.) These officials would be the sole deciders as to whether a ticket is warranted and issued on the video or not, just like red light camera photos, retaining the proper decisive authority where it belongs. Time and date stamps would determine the immediacy with which a video was received. Cops should be given the authority to simply throw away any video evidence that arrives long after the date stamp (preventing people from saving up incriminating evidence). Cops should be given a workable CTP database for cross-checking and the authority to discard any video evidence received from the same patroller on the same vehicle more than once, to prevent stalking, blackmail, entrapment, and varied forms of citizen corruption.

There would need to be oversight provisos aplenty. Any willful violation of CTP procedure and policy would result in immediate shutdown and removal of the apparatus from the citizen's personal vehicle at the owner’s expense, even getting towed to do so, if not her/his own arrest. Further, CTP procedure violators should be fined at least ALL monies collected through their actions on previous captures. Such violations should include but not be limited to

1) Speaking to the violator caught on video
2) Sending in more than one (or pick a reasonable number) video violations on the same vehicle
3) Any indication of device, data, or media tampering
4) The interruption of any police officer in the course of her/his duties
5) Evidence of entrapment.
6) Breaking motor vehicle law in order to capture some one else breaking motor vehicle law
7) Posing as a police officer
8) Expired driver’s license
9) Expired vehicle insurance
10) Expired vehicle registration
11) Failure to pay one’s own tickets
12) Video capture of the patroller’s own vehicle in a moving violation
13) Equipment used to spy.

For years police departments have talked about citizen’s being the eyes and the ears of their neighborhoods. They express actual regret in not being able to protect everyplace at once. They beg neighborhood watches to be on the lookout, commuters to keep eyes open for suspicious behaviors and objects, victims to report crimes against them, and building/business owners to install security cameras. The Civilian Ticket Patrol is an extension of that very want. While it utilizes an existing segment of law that I find somewhat deplorable, there are a great deal of long sought after complications that a program like this might well resolve.

Let’s examine.

The practice only punishes those who are breaking the law, as opposed to blanketing the entire area with new rules and fees that target innocents and traffic violators equally.

It spreads the eyes and ears of otherwise official units charged with preventing traffic violations out among as large and invisible a cross–segment of the city population as any city is willing to fund.

Unlike red light cameras which groups frequently document and post online to create a map of avoidable intersections, these cameras are mobile; they can be at any place at any time, a truly more effective deterrent to traffic violation than a stationary, visible camera.

This can easily put a little extra money in ordinary people’s pockets without the lengthy governmental red tape of raising minimum wage, encouraging new local business, or creating jobs. Once up and running it is quite an immediate return for both city and citizens.

As stated before, a video system would capture far more types of infraction than a single, red light camera can.

Former New York City Mayor Giuliani, and to a certain extent, the now NYC Mayor Bloomberg have frequently asserted that the best action to curtail gridlock/traffic in Manhattan’s central business district would simply be for those on the road to follow the existing rules. New York City has signs at so many of it’s major intersections warning “Don’t Block the Box,” meaning, do not enter an intersection, even on a green light, if you cannot safely cross the entire intersection to the opposite side. A large number of these intersections have even painted a giant cross-hatching right onto the pavement so that drivers can see the “box” in question. Heck, many of the red light cameras in Manhattan were mounted for this express purpose. Much to the city’s surprise after implementing them, a great number of the red light scoffing culprits were their own city bus drivers. The point being, if officials insist that moving violations (not traffic volumes) are a direct cause of city gridlock, to the tune of implementing multi-million dollar systems targeted to decrease just one type of said violations, then they would have to agree that a newer system which targets MORE violation types in ALL areas would be superior and therefore more effective.

Sure, the Civilian Ticket Patrol would have its built-in limits. Civilian car to car video cannot accurately capture speeding, horn blowing, improper breaking distances, and so on. Such a system would even need to weed out the possibility of multiple videos captured of the same, distinct violation.

But, these circumstances are not why everyone to whom I suggest the idea is ready to string me up by my balls. People hate the idea because they like getting away with moving violations. “Come on. Everybody does it.” They have fervently convinced themselves that, if gone uncaught, a moving violation, even a serious one, never actually happened. They like putting a boot in the man’s ass. People mass-justify their own rule bending and breaking actions to such a vast degree that the idea of a factually legal driver is considered an outcast notion, an impossibility, and even a danger to other drivers. People like beating the odds. They seriously don’t mind paying a ticket or two over the years when compared to the twenty-thousand times they habitually got away with the same action. The Civilian Ticket Patrol would severely crop those odds. It might truly force a multiple offender to look at and to adjust to her/his own actions. If not, it might merely be a speedier path to getting licenses revoked, cars off the road, and nominal traffic flow in a thickly populated area.

All in all, we should not do it. My idea is not at all a nice way to collectively dis/allow folks to exercise American freedoms. Yet, if the only alternative is going to be congestion pricing or some other ill-begotten idea that charges everybody and punishes those who already play by the rules, I vote for my idea. The Civilian Ticket Patrol, gotcha!

1 comment:

Pockets said...

Wow! I am my own flood of comments. Today, it was picked up by Z100, a top NYC radio station, in a segment they call -Stupid News- that pursuant to the amount of vandalism in one city's red light camera program, they are now dispatching security cameras to be pointed at the red light cameras. Really! Come on, doesn't my solution negate this move?