The Blog

Fighting the Good Fight

Camera advocates claim that most people like red-light cameras, but citizens across the country are taking to the barricades against them. Part 5 in a series.

11:00 PM, Apr 4, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
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Over in High Point, North Carolina, lawyer Marshall Hurley is trying to make a judge see things similarly, but may have a tougher go of it in what appears to be the most ethically-compromised system in the nation. High Point contracts with Electronic Data Systems, which subcontracts with PEEK Traffic. A big, happy family, the three entities have formed SafeLight. If a High Point citizen wants to appeal a photo ticket, he first has to pay a $50 "bond" (presumption of innocence be damned). But when a motorist heads into traffic adjudication, he meets not a judge or even a lawyer, but rather a college professor, hired to appear disinterested in the outcome. The professors are paid from the funds generated by red-light camera tickets, and the hearings are held not in court, but at SafeLight's offices, a fact that even a disinterested professor might find interesting.

Back in Washington, I have come to the logical terminus of all this unpleasantness--the coldest, most menacing place on earth, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. I pass through a metal detector with a sign warning "Confiscated weapons will not be returned" in order to watch sad-sack motorists try to argue their way out of red-light camera tickets (in some localities, adjudication centers have become so backed up, they've had to sub out their hearings). Finding the when or whereabouts of the hearings, however, is no simple matter. The ocher lighting reflecting off ugly formica surfaces long ago calcified the once lifelike frowns of the DMV workers into permanent sneers. Every transaction is a hostile interrogation, with a bewildered customer asking questions of a much craftier DMV worker, practiced in the art of never giving two pieces of information when one will do.

When I ask the Information lady where the automated enforcement hearings are, she tells me to go to The Green Desk. The Green Desk says to go Downstairs. Downstairs says to go Upstairs. Upstairs tells me to check with Information, where the cycle starts anew. Running out of patience and bladder capacity, I go to the restroom. Even here, the layout is ill-planned, with the urinal stationed right in front of the sole bathroom stall, causing a traffic hazard that no six-second yellow light could solve.

Defeated, I return to the office to check out the police department's website in search of possible court dates. There aren't any. Instead, there is more useful information. The police have helpfully included a tip sheet on "How to Avoid Con Games and Swindles." It reads, "Never turn over large sums of cash to anyone, especially a stranger, no matter how promising the deal looks."

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5

Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.