Almost five years ago I saw a story on CBS news about how red light cameras caused more accidents, not less. Then the LAPD claimed the report was inaccurate, even though it was based on the LAPD’s own numbers. I knew the reporter and the LAPD couldn’t both be right. On my own, I looked at the data and found that the LAPD was using some “creative” statistics to make the claim that the red light cameras improved safety. I also learned that there were better solutions to improve safety at intersections than simply continuing to issue $500 tickets to tens of thousands of motorists year after year after year.
As the debate in City Council about the red light camera program continued, I learned something else. None of the City Council members had a strong grasp on the issues surrounding this decade long program. They simply relied on LAPD and LADOT assurances that the program made sense, was saving lives, and should continue. Not only didn’t the Council members know when they were being misled, most didn’t even know what questions to ask to ferret out the truth.
To me, this was shocking. Because I had done the research, I knew that certain members of the LAPD and DOT were being less than candid — but no one was there in City Council chambers to tell the other side of the story.
Although I personally had never gotten one of these automated tickets, I knew I had to do something. I saw something wrong and I needed to fix it.
So I began contacting Council members and their staff and providing information about what they weren’t being told. As Paul Harvey used to say, I gave them “the rest of the story”. A few months later the City Controller released an audit backing up everything I had been saying, that there was no proof the program actually improved safety, that the city was losing millions of dollars, that the public and the elected officials were being bamboozled.
And yet the Council still wasn’t ready to toss out this failed program. Some continued to deny the truth and claim that the ticketing program really was working, some claimed we could “fix” the program by putting the cameras in the “right” locations, and some didn’t seem to care about the facts at all and just wanted to see the program continue no matter what.
But after about a year of writing reports and presenting evidence to the City Council and Police Commission, I finally started making headway. Then certain Council Members began to publicly criticized me, hoping I would go away. But I didn’t give up. Then in May of 2011, the Police Commission voted unanimously to end the program, largely due to my overwhelming evidence that it just wasn’t making us any safer. To many, this was a shocking turn of events as the Commission rarely went against the wishes of the LAPD.
A number of Council Members finally started to publicly call for an end to the camera program, but a few, like Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry, and Tony Cardenas wouldn’t give up. They tried all sorts of political maneuvering in an attempt to keep the program going. Eventually, in July of 2011, the clock ran out and the hated red light camera program was no more.
In an interview with Channel 4’s Ted Chen, he asked me why I spent so much of my time and effort on this without benefiting personally. My answer was simple, “I saw something wrong and someone needed to do something about it”.
In the years since, I’ve worked to fix other things that were wrong. From convincing California to adopt longer yellow light times throughout the state, to defeating legislation that would have taken away our right to a court trial, to getting our surrounding neighborhood streets and sidewalks repaired.
There’s been lots of successes, but the work isn’t done. There’s lots of things that need fixing… and someone needs to do something about it.