Orange County to Contract with Red Light Camera Company Embroiled in Bribery Scandals
Around the State
As the Florida Supreme Court prepares to hear at least one challenge to local government implementation of red-light cameras, the Orlando Sentinel reports that Orange County is preparing to contract with a camera company embroiled in bribery scandals in at least three different jurisdictions.
The company at the heart of the latest controversy is Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which recently lost its Chicago contract after a year-long (and continuing) investigation by the Chicago Tribune implicated the company in a $2 million bribery scheme involving at least one city official.
At the Tribune's instigation, Redflex conducted its own internal audit, canned some if its top executives, and is now exploring possible bribery in two other unnamed “geographies that raise concern,” Michael McConnell, interim board chairman of Redflex Holdings, has reportedly told stakeholders.
This background notwithstanding, the company is set to win a contract with Orange County to expand the jurisdiction's already-existing red light camera system, having scored highest in early staff reviews of competing bids for the project.
“We recently announced new leadership and a comprehensive series of system improvements in our business to support the highest ethical standards,” Robert T. DeVincenzi, president and CEO of Redflex Holdings and CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems, has said in a statement. "Those actions marked the dividing line between the past and where our company is headed. Each of the changes follow information uncovered during an internal investigation by the law firm of Sidley Austin. We gave the firm unfettered access to our people and our records and directed that its inquiry run without limitation. While we may discover additional information, we have already learned enough to take the previously-announced steps that were necessary to change our company. We are working, each day, to recapture the trust of our clients, the public and our own employees. This day, and every day, we intend to be a constructive force in the industry, meeting the needs of communities across the country and serving the public interest.”
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs's office did not return requests for comment before this story went to press.
As of 2012, 71 cities or counties have installed the controversial cameras at various traffic stops.
The Sentinel quotes McConnell assuring county officials that Orange County is not one of the two jurisdictions. The devices, which are operated by private corporations, contain special sensors which are supposed to videotape and snap photographs of the license plates of drivers who run red lights. Employees of the corporation review the videos taken, and submit those of apparent traffic offenses to city or county police officers, who in turn make the final determination whether a driver receives a code violation citation (not a regular traffic citation).
Once issued a code citation – a fine of $158 – from the cameras, a vehicle owner is presumed liable unless he can prove he was not driving the car at the time of the alleged violation or otherwise demonstrates the inaccuracy of the images or their interpretation by law enforcement officials. Vehicle owners who fail to pay the fine are issued a regular traffic citation; failure to pay the citation can result in one's license being suspended.
Proponents of the cameras claim they are much-needed, revenue-generating devices for local governments and that they increase traffic safety, while critics allege the cameras do not make intersections safer and that they violate drivers' constitutional due process rights. (Both sides appeal to conflicting studies on the cameras' effectiveness in reducing crashes.) Critics also say the contracts entangle local governments too closely with for-profit interests.
“I think it definitely reaffirms my message and a lot of representatives' messages up here [in Tallahassee], that we should really reconsider red light cameras and the direction we've taken the state in,” Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, tells Sunshine State News, referring to the controversy coming out of Orange County. “The cameras have turned into a money-grabbing scheme by municipalities and counties rather than a safety issue.”
Trujillo is one of two principal co-sponsors, with Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, of HB 4011 (“Traffic Infraction Detectors”), which would strip local governments of their authority to install the cameras, but would otherwise reserve that authority to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).
“I already know these cameras are a scam; that this is why I've been fighting with my bill to make sure people hear my voice,” Campbell tells SSN, calling HB 4011 “my baby” for the 2013 legislative session. “During my re-election campaign, when I knocked on people's doors, that's all I heard people complaining about: improper citations, because they weren't driving their cars [when they were photographed], or because the yellow lights were changing to red quicker than they previously had at some intersections. I took up this bill to help my people.”
Trujillo says his experience as an attorney has informed his sensitivity to the civil rights implications of the the red light camera system.
“Having seen, in the courts, people represent themselves against tickets that were never warranted, that they were never responsible for, and seeing them having to go in and show their innocence rather than the system having to prove their guilt, that's a complete violation of our Florida and U.S. Constitutions,” he insists.
Campbell's principal concern is with how the citations disproportionately affect the poor and disadvantaged of her district.
“This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue, this is about people's lives,” she says, barely containing her frustration. “When you have senior citizens who have no one at all to take them to a doctor's office, or to go get their medicine, and they're on a fixed income with Social Security; when you look at people losing their homes, who have no job, and on top of that they have to get a $158 citation or a license suspension based on a machine ... this is just another unfair burden on them."
Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116.