John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 7, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Mississippi zapped the spy cams, will others follow?

It will be interesting to see if other states follow Mississippi in their outright rejection of traffic cameras.

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Mainly Louisiana. Especially New Orleans and Metairie where all-seeing eyes at intersections regularly spew out tickets to traffic signal scofflaws.

From reading the Times-Picayune and its online comments, the biggest objection seems to be how good those cameras are at collecting fine cash and just what a big take the company that owns them gets. It’s a well-oiled machine.

Critics argue that the cameras are too closely timed to the lights’ change to yellow. This causes more rear-end collisions, they say, because people get paranoid and start slamming on their brakes on sight of yellow even though they are about to enter the intersection. I’ve passed through at least one under yellow conditions that left me wondering if the mail would soon be bringing me a fine notice. It didn’t.

I got a ticket for running a red light once. The street I was crossing had a wide neutral ground. I entered one side on yellow and failed to stop before entering the other. There was a motorcycle cop on the other side that day enforcing zero tolerance. It cost me about $180, if I remember correctly.

Fines from the spy cams are considerably lower and are handled as civil matters, I understand.

The propensity of New Orleans drivers to run stop lights is notorious at certain intersections. Having seen so many cars blow through intersections as the light changes from yellow to red has left me timid. Before starting from a green light I look both ways to make sure.

But the biggest complaint about the spy cameras in New Orleans is not about those that work so well on traffic violators. It’s about those cameras which have been strategically placed in high-crime areas to record the faces of criminals. Somebody closely connected to the mayor got a zillion-dollar contract to install them.

Very few of those cameras work. Unlike the company that provides and operates the traffic camera system, there’s no profit incentive built into the crime cameras.

There was crime spy camera that caught the image of a man climbing a ladder. He had placed the ladder on the utility pole where the camera was mounted. He was climbing the pole with a can of spray paint in his hand. Don’t know whether they caught him or not.