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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Automating justice: speed cameras proliferate throughout the Valley

Brian Powell over at the East Valley Tribune has done those of us who love freedom a real solid by revealing that some of the old intersection speeding and red light cameras that Scottsdale has stationed around the city are in fact deactivated and not working at all. Freedom! You can now safely disregard them and reclaim a little public space back from Scottsdale's ever-growing techno-police apparatus.

Although the machines no longer physically function, city officials and police are counting on their inherent Big Brother powers to remain largely intact because the city has left their empty shells lurking in the intersections as a deterrent to unsuspecting drivers.
Motorists traveling northbound on Scottsdale Road through McDowell Road still see a red-light camera on the northeast corner. But that camera hasn’t snapped a violation since October 2002. Motorists heading east or west on Shea Boulevard haven’t had the chance of a camera citation at Hayden Road since December 2001.

The main reason the old boxes aren’t removed is deterrence, officials say.

“One of the reasons considered is would they offer a deterrent? And yes they would,” Scottsdale spokesman Pat Dodds said. “There was no harm in leaving them there, so it was decided to leave them, and through natural attrition, remove them.”

The cameras, which are in gray or white boxes with two visible lenses pointing at vehicles, do look different than the more modern digital cameras that currently exist at eight intersections, along Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and Loop 101. But unless a motorist is familiar with the differing tech- nology, one would likely have no idea.

The conflicting cameras even appear at the same intersection. Southbound Scottsdale Road travelers at Thomas Road see a deactivated camera, but northbound travelers face a live camera that could cite them for running a red light or speeding.

Scottsdale has no immediate plans to take the old cameras down, but will remove them if an intersection undergoes construction or it is once again slated for live cameras, Dodds said. The old camera at Hayden and McDonald roads, for instance, was taken down when the intersection was widened.

“If police believe it’s a good deterrent and it’s not conflicting with something else, I really have no problem with them being there,” said Councilman Wayne Ecton, who was unaware of the deactivated cameras.
Indeed, the speed camera business is booming, according to a Tribune article that ran last week. Other Valley cities are getting in on the act and are considering installing cameras both to automate justice and to spy on local drivers, not to mention to extract revenue from unconsenting residents of other cities that pass through town (who, conveniently, can't vote against the politicians supporting their installation).
And an East Valley company is one of the front-runners in the race for national dominance in the camera-centered road crime-catching business.

American Traffic Solutions grew its client base by a whopping 40 percent in just the last three months.

The privately owned company, which located its headquarters and global operations center in Scottsdale and its regional customer service and tech center in Mesa, has added 17 clients so far in 2007, upping its portfolio to 60.

Mesa, Phoenix, Glendale and Avondale are among those who use American Traffic Solutions services.

The company is pitching to Tempe, Scottsdale and 18 others that use other service providers or haven’t yet installed a traffic camera system, said Sherri Teille, the company’s marketing manager. And if the Arizona Department of Transportation decides to dot Loop 101 with cameras, the local company is itching to bid for the business, she said.
The cameras on the Loop 101, which Scottsdale controversially turned back on after a brief hiatus for evaluation, snapped more than 24,000 pictures in the month following their reactivation.

So, unless the locals here start registering their discontent with the new police automation in a forceful way, we can expect a lot more of it - and not just at intersections. Already, the police in several Valley cities have automated license plate reading, moving their attack on poor people (those who can't afford to register their cars but need them for work, etc.) into high gear. It's worth noting that automating so-called justice has the added effect of shifting control over the policing process out of the hands of police themselves and into the hands of technicians, who are even less democratically accountable than cops! Civilian review boards will surely not cover police technology or the techs tasked with maintaining, deploying and developing it.

Worse, these technologies shift policing into the realm of science, which as an institution is totally resistant to public oversight of any kind. When policing becomes a technical matter, it's class war purpose is even more easily camouflaged with the illusion of technological neutrality, the false claim of technology (in this case, that automation is neutral rather than a specific weapon deployed by the elite against the poor and working classes). Thus, these speed cameras - and all police cameras - need to be opposed broadly. A line must be drawn and defended.

But in framing our attack, we must reject the public safety argument because that is one that the elites have mastered and can only lead us instead to other forms of policing, like more cops on the streets (as the police union suggested last year as an alternative to cameras). Instead, we should focus on the theme of protecting and expanding freedom, since everyone already distrusts the government's commitment in this regard.

All is not lost, however. In Britain, a shadowy organization has been targeting the cameras for some time now with good ol' fashioned direct action, setting them on fire and even exploding them. To avoid a felony, I suspect a black plastic bag carefully placed and taped up would accomplish the same effect, albeit temporarily.

Burn the speed cameras, before it's too late. Just make sure it's a working one!


For more analysis, check out this past PI article:
Sheriff Joe's 'techno cops' goes online and Scottsdale's freeway cameras go live

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