Protesters make their case against red-light cameras

Saturday, February 27, 2010 | 8:03 p.m. CST
Aaron DeFoe and Liz DeFoe-Thomas on Friday hold signs protesting the red-light cameras on the corner of Providence Road and Broadway. Liz DeFoe-Thomas is a member of Liberty on the Rocks, a national organization that she said is "focused on individual liberty."

COLUMBIA — About a dozen people showed up Friday afternoon to protest the newly-installed red-light cameras downtown at the intersection of Providence and Broadway.

Protest organizer Liz Defoe-Thomas said she believes the cameras violate drivers' constitutional right to face their accuser. "You cannot face an accuser that is a robotic machine," she said.

Defoe-Thomas also doubted the camera's effectiveness in decreasing intersection collisions. Photos don't stop accidents from occurring, she said. Instead, there is evidence they can actually increase the number of accidents at stop lights.

On a yellow light, some motorists either rush through or brake suddenly to avoid a ticket, possibly causing an accident or a rear-end crash, she said.

Mark Flakne, a member of the group, attended the protest holding a sign that read "No robot cops."

"I want my cops to be living, breathing humans capable to make decisions,"  Flakne said.

Paul Love, who is running for mayor, also joined in the protest. "I am just not a big fan of the cameras."

Love said the city won't save money by using them. After a red-light camera photographs a car running a red light, police officers need to go through many of the photos to ensure they meet certain requirements to charge the driver. 

Love also said a significant amount of money from each ticket goes to Gatso USA, the company that operates the cameras. This gives an incentive for the company to issue more tickets, he said.

The cameras

Red light violators caught on camera have to pay a $120 fine. About one third of the ticket amount, or $41 goes to Gatso USA, which is a private, out-of-state company.

"There is no capital cost for the city at all in terms of the installation and operation of the red-light cameras," Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

There are five red-light cameras in Columbia. Cameras are located at:

  • Broadway and Providence Road
  • Stadium Boulevard and Worley Street
  • Two cameras at Stadium and Forum boulevards
  • Stadium Boulevard and Providence Road 

The three newest cameras at Stadium and Forum boulevards and Stadium Boulevard and Providence Road have not worked since their installation earlier this month, Columbia Police Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said.

St. Romaine said the cameras' video equipment is malfunctioning. New equipment was installed Wednesday and is still being tested. He said hopefully the problems can be fixed within a few days.

In the past six months, the city has issued 525 tickets from red light cameras. The city has collected $62,894 in fines.

More than 150 tickets have been mailed but not yet paid, St. Romaine said.

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Allan Sharrock February 27, 2010 | 8:11 p.m.

There is no capital costs... Does this mean there are operating costs? Hidden court costs? There are different types of expense accounts. I know it takes police man hours that I personally think could be better spent elsewhere.

(Report Comment)
Haotao Xiong February 28, 2010 | 11:15 p.m.

Thanks a lot for your comment and I am the reporter of the story. According to what I have known so far, as for the operating costs, Gatso USA is in charge of the operation and maintaining and MoDOT will pay for the electricity expense. And Gatso is also responsible for monitoring the pictures taken by the cameras. But as for the city police department, I am not sure how much, say, human capital they need to put in this.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock March 5, 2010 | 1:41 p.m.

Well I would find out. I mean if it takes X amount of police man hours to receive Y then we may be losing money.

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