Red light cameras in San Mateo County, California received a one-two punch as an appellate court and a grand jury called into question the way red light cameras operate in the county. On Monday, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury released a report suggesting that the eight cities within the county that use photo enforcement are preoccupied with revenue. The report found that although cities claimed their sole interest was safety, officials failed to furnish reliable evidence to back up the assertion.
“Based on interviews and responses to survey questions, the reporting of accident statistics is not being used as a measure of the effectiveness of red light cameras,” the report stated. “The primary emphasis appears to be on the number of citations issued. Based on the data provided by the cities, there was no overall trend indicating a noticeable change in accident rates before and after installation of red light cameras.”
The report found no doubt in the financial aspects of the program that generated $13,802,808 worth of tickets last year. On average, Daly City saw $294,360 worth of tickets per month; Menlo Park saw $280,980; Millbrae saw $152,978; Redwood City saw $226,122; San Carlos saw $23,638 and San Mateo saw $261,802. The number in San Carlos is particularly low because the duration of the yellow light has been increased.
“Recently, the City of San Carlos extended the yellow light time to comply with state standards and found that the number of citations fell dramatically,” the report explained. “As a result the revenue from red light citations could no longer cover the associated costs.”
The grand jury recommended that city councils hold an annual meeting to evaluate whether accident rates had dropped at photo-enforced intersections and that cameras should be removed if they are shown to be ineffective ( view grand jury report, 1mb PDF file). The county’s problems were compounded on May 20 when the Appellate Division of the county’s superior court overturned a red light camera ticket because the photographic evidence was ruled insufficient.
A red light camera had accused motorist Noriko Durney of running a red light in Millbrae. Her husband Edward, a lawyer, filed an appeal after losing at the trial court level. Millbrae Police Officer Jim Aboud testified in court about the camera, claiming he was the official custodian of records for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the for-profit company that is in charge of the city’s automated ticketing program. Aboud had taken “some type of training session” from ATS and obtained a “certificate of completion” on May 15, 2008. Appellate Judge H. James Ellis found this unimpressive.
“To be fair, it appears that Officer Aboud received a packet of materials from American Traffic Solutions and then simply presented testimony based upon the content of the materials he received,” Ellis wrote. “Simply stated, Officer Aboud presented the information provided through officials of American Traffic Solutions as if it was true and correct, without any basis for doing so.”
Edward Durney objected to the ATS photographs on the grounds that they failed to meet the requirements of the evidence code. Judge Ellis agreed.
“The appellant was denied the right to effectively cross examine anyone relating to the specifics of the system and/or its operational status,” Ellis concluded. “Without the appropriate foundation, admission of Exhibits 1 through 10 was erroneous. The judgment is reversed with directions that the charges be dismissed.”
On May 21, the appellate division in Orange County issued a decision coming to the same conclusion as the San Mateo court (read opinion). Edward Durney took this as a sign that red light cameras could be in serious trouble throughout the state.
“When real lawyers who know the rules of evidence take these cases to appeals courts who care about the rules, the weaknesses get probed and skewered,” Durney told TheNewspaper. “It looks like the whole system may be on the verge of tumbling down.”
A copy of the court case is available in a 600k PDF file at the source link below.