New Jersey Shuts Down Red Light Cameras In 21 Cities After Finding They Don’t Meet Legal Requirements For Yellow Light Timing

June 21, 2012

NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) yesterday ordered a halt to red light camera ticketing in 21 cities. The agency became concerned drivers are being shortchanged and the law violated after learning that 63 of 85 photo ticketing intersections failed to meet legal requirements for yellow signal timing. The agency prohibited ticketing at these locations pending certification of each individual intersection’s timing.

“It has come to the attention of the department that the pilot program legislation specifies a formula to determine the proper duration of the yellow light in a traffic signal that differs from the legally required, nationally accepted formula that NJDOT or municipalities use when installing traffic signals,” NJDOT explained in a statement yesterday.

NJDOT said any camera operating with an overly short yellow will be removed from the camera program. In 2008, lawmakers skeptical of the motives behind photo ticketing inserted a provision into the camera program authorization that put in place one of the most stringent yellow timing provisions in the country. Their goal was to reduce the likelihood that municipalities and private vendors would exploit timing deficiencies to generate ticketing revenue. The National Motorists Association, which helped push for the signal timing law, believes the claims of photo enforcement proponents have been undermined by municipalities in New Jersey.

“Even with the law, the program was not implemented properly,” NMA’s New Jersey chapter coordinator Steve Carrellas said. “It goes to show that camera enforcement should never be allowed since it’s almost never fair to motorists.”

According to NJDOT, only 22 out of 85 intersections were certified with an appropriate yellow signal timing. The law specifies a typical 35 MPH intersection must have at least 3.5 seconds of yellow time, and a 45 MPH intersection would be 4.5 seconds, and so on. Most cities achieve shortened yellow times by posting speed limits far below the actual travel speed of traffic. The law prevents this with a provision specifying that the yellow time can only be set according to the speed at which 85 percent of traffic moves. The net result is that the law mandates significantly longer yellows.

“This requirement aims to ensure that the traffic signal is timed properly to provide motorists with sufficient time to avoid a violation and fine by entering an intersection when the light is red,” NJDOT explained.

The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds after the light turned red (see chart).

Ohio and Georgia have similarly tough statues, requiring one second be added to the yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera. In Georgia, implementation of the law produced an immediate 80 percent reduction in violations, so much that the state’s primary photo ticketing vendor, Lasercraft, was forced to sell its business.

New Jersey’s automated ticketing ban applies to Newark, Linden, Wayne, Palisades Park, Union Township, Springfield (Union County), Roselle Park, Rahway, Englewood Cliffs, Pohatcong, Piscataway, Edison, East Windsor, Lawrence, Cherry Hill, Stratford, Monroe, Brick and Glassboro.

Appeared Here


Washington DC Pockets $55 Million In Safety Cash From Redlight And Speed Cameras – Fines Have Risen 150% Over 2 To 3 Years – District Ads Lots More Cameras Hoping For Extra $30 Million In Next Year

June 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Speed and red-light cameras have become a booming industry. After a record performance last year, D.C. is on pace to bring in even more cash this year.

Using a Freedom of Information Act request, AAA Mid-Atlantic found that the District took in a record $55.1 million from speed and red-light cameras during its 2011 fiscal year, despite issuing fewer citations than the year before.

In 2011, the city mailed 462,601 tickets. Of those, 397,464 were paid and 65,137 remain unpaid. In 2010, D.C. mailed 618,165 tickets. Of those, 547,131 were paid and 71,034 were not.

“No one does it better that the District of Columbia,” says John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.

He says revenues have climbed because fines have gone up by 150 percent over the last two to three years.

By comparison, Montgomery County, which is both larger and more populous than D.C., took in $19 million from camera enforcement within a similar time span, according to Townsend.

This year, the District is expected to set new records for revenue and number of tickets issued. From October 2011 to April 2012, the city has mailed 472,320 tickets.

So far, 353,342 have been paid.

“They’ve said that they want to generate $30 million more in the next budget cycle,” Townsend says.

“Once you do that, you raise questions about the integrity of the program.”

Additionally, 27 more speed cameras came online this week after a 30-day grace period. Locations of those cameras include well-traveled routes, such as the 14th Street Bridge, the Ninth Street Tunnel, and the Southwest Freeway.

Appeared Here


Brown County Wisconsin Sheriff’s Department And Drug Task Force Use Lies And Scam To Steal $7,500 From Disabled Woman Trying To Post Her Son’s Bail – Money From ATM’s, Like All Circulating US Currency, Had Traces Of Drugs

May 21, 2012

BROWN COUNTY, WISCONSIN – When the Brown County, Wis., Drug Task Force arrested her son Joel last February, Beverly Greer started piecing together his bail.

She used part of her disability payment and her tax return. Joel Greer’s wife also chipped in, as did his brother and two sisters. On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer’s bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. “The police specifically told us to bring cash,” Greer says. “Not a cashier’s check or a credit card. They said cash.”

So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she’d be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.

Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers’ cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills — and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.

“I told them the money had just come from the bank,” Beverly Greer says. “We had just taken it out. If the money had drugs on it, then they should go seize all the money at the bank, too. I just don’t understand how they could do that.”

The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it. It’s a policy critics say is often abused, but experts told The HuffPost that the way the law is applied to bail money in Brown County is exceptionally unfair.

It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family’s money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. “The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money,” Williams says. “Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money.”

Wisconsin is one of four states (along with Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon) that prohibits bail bondsmen. So bail must be paid either in cash, with a registered check, cashier’s check or credit card. In fact, Donna Kuchler, a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney based in Waukesha, said police aren’t allowed to insist on cash.

“I would be suspicious of why they would do that,” Kuchler says. “I had a case last year in Fond du Lac County where they tried to say my client could only pay in cash. My guess is that they probably intended to do the same thing that happened here. We brought a cashier’s check anyway, and they knew they had to accept it.”

But the Greers still fared better than Jesus Zamora, whose family and friends continue to fight for police to return their bail money. Zamora was arrested in January on misdemeanor drug possession and a misdemeanor gun charge. A judge set his bail at $5,000.

“My girlfriend borrowed some money from her sister and mother and a few friends, and they came to bail me out,” Zamora says. “But then they started asking her if she had brought drug money. They took the money away and said they were going to have the drug dogs sniff it. She asked them when I would be let out, and they told her, ‘He isn’t going anywhere’.”

The police then seized Zamora’s bail money, just as they did with the Greers’. “I stayed in jail for, I think, another 11 days. I lost count. I had never been arrested for drugs before. And this was for a really small amount. Seventeen painkillers, for which I had a prescription, and a small bag they say had traces of cocaine. And they say my girlfriend and I just had $5,000 in drug money lying around.”

Zamora’s girlfriend borrowed more money from friends and coworkers, which she promised to pay back out of her mother’s tax return. They waited until Zamora had a court date, and this time posted his bail in front of a judge, with a cashier’s check. Wisconsin law enforcement officials also are required to provide a receipt when they confiscate property under forfeiture laws. Beverly Greer and Jesus Zamora both said they were never given receipts.

Brown County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Dave Poteat says the dog alerts were not the only factors. According to Poteat, the Greers and Zamora’s girlfriend appeared nervous when they brought in the bail money. “Their stories didn’t add up. Their ATM receipts had the wrong times on them. And they were withdrawing from several different locations. The times just didn’t correspond to their stories.”

Poteat says an additional reason Zamora’s bail money was confiscated was because during calls from the jail to multiple people, he indicated that the money was drug-related. “Mr. Zamora made a number of calls in which he appeared to be trying to disguise or hide where the money was coming from,” Poteat says. “At one point, he even said to another party, ‘of course the money is dirty.'”

According to Poteat, all inmate calls from the jail are recorded, and both the inmate and the party they call are warned before the call begins.

Zamora says he was merely telling his girlfriend where to get the bail money. “There’s a guy who still owes me money from a car I sold to him. And where I’m from, everyone has a nickname. So I was telling her who she could go to that might be able to give her some money for my bail. I used nicknames because I didn’t want the police to visit their houses.”

Zamora says he was not attempting to disguise where the money was from, only telling his girlfriend and sister to find someone else to bring in the money so they wouldn’t be interrogated. “I know how police do this. My sister just got her immigration papers. I didn’t want them harassing her or threatening to deport her or to change her immigration status. I just wanted to protect them, so I told them to find someone else to bring in the money.”

Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property — a car, a pile of cash, a house — can be guilty of a crime. Laws vary from state to state, but generally, law enforcement officials can seize property if they can show any connection between the property and illegal activity. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove in court that he owns it or earned it legitimately. It doesn’t require a property owner to actually be convicted of a crime. In fact, most people who lose property to civil asset forfeiture are never charged.

The laws were created to go after the ill-gotten gains of big-time dealers, but critics say they’ve since become a way for police departments to generate revenue — often by targeting lower-level offenders. In 2010, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian law firm, rated the forfeiture laws in all 50 states, assigning higher grades to states with fairer policies. The firm gave Wisconsin a “C.” When there’s less than $2,000 at stake, law enforcement agencies in the state get to keep 70 percent of what they take. If more than $2,000 is taken, departments can keep half.

But in all states, police agencies can contact the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), making the case federal, and under federal law, local police departments can keep up to 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds, with the rest going to the Department of Justice. The institute reports that between 2000 and 2008, police agencies in Wisconsin took in $50 million from this “equitable sharing” program with the federal government. According to Williams, the DEA recently filed a claim on Zamora’s money in federal court, to take possession of the money through federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

But even in the odd world of asset forfeiture, the seizure of bail money because of a drug-dog alert raises other concerns. In addition to increasing skepticism over the use of drug-sniffing dogs, studies have consistently shown that most U.S. currency contains traces of cocaine. In a 1994 ruling, for example, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited studies showing that 75 percent of U.S. currency in Los Angeles included traces of narcotics. In 2009, researchers at the University of Massachusetts analyzed 234 bills collected from 18 cities, and found that 90 percent contained traces of cocaine. A 2008 study published in the Trends in Analytical Chemistry came to similar conclusions, as have studies by the Federal Reserve and the Argonne National Laboratory.

Zamora says he was referring to the common presence of drugs on money when he told his girlfriend, “of course the money is dirty.” “I had talked to my attorney about how all money has some drugs on it,” Zamora says. “So I was trying to tell her what to say if they told her a dog alerted to it. That she was supposed to say, ‘Of course the money is dirty — all money is dirty.'”

Stephen Downing, a retired narcotics cop who served as assistant police chief in Los Angeles, says it isn’t surprising that a drug dog would alert to a pile of cash, since it usually has traces of drugs.

“I’d call these cases direct theft. They’re hijackings,” says Downing, who is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former police and prosecutors who advocate ending the drug war.

Downing says he recently consulted a medical marijuana activist in California who was told to bring his bail money in cash, despite the fact that state law allows payment with a cashier’s check, a registered check or a credit card. “It makes me wonder if this seizing of bail is a new idea getting shopped around in law enforcement circles.”

Poteat says he’s aware of some studies from the 1980s about traces of narcotics on most U.S. currency, but that he didn’t know about the more recent research. “Our dogs are trained with currency that’s taken out of circulation. So they wouldn’t alert to bills that have the same traces most other bills have.”

Steven Kessler, a New York-based forfeiture attorney and the author of the legal treatise “Civil and Criminal Forfeiture: Federal and State Practice,” said he had never heard of simply confiscating bail. “It’s abhorrent. You can reject bail if you suspect the money is dirty. But you don’t simply take it and hand it over to the police department.”

Virginia attorney David Smith, who also wrote a book on forfeiture, says he has seen other cases in which authorities have confiscated bail money, but adds, “No courts have ordered forfeiture simply on the basis of a dog alert. There has to be other evidence.”

Forfeitures like these may not hold up in court, but failed cases wouldn’t necessarily discourage police departments from continuing the practice. If the defendant never challenges the seizure, the department generates revenue. If the defendant challenges and wins, the department loses little.

Indigent defendants, in particular, may decide not to pursue a forfeiture case due to the expense, particularly if they’ve already used their savings on bail, or are more concerned with fighting pending criminal charges. In many cases, the amount of cash seized would be exceeded by the costs of hiring an attorney to win it back anyway. In addition, under Wisconsin law, indigent defendants are not entitled to a public defender in civil asset forfeiture cases.

“I would think that one of these cases would be the perfect opportunity for a court to impose punitive damages against the police department,” Kessler says. “You need to make it clear that it would be damaging for the police to attempt this sort of thing in the future. Considering how appalling these cases are, I don’t see why a court couldn’t do that.”

Poteat says it “isn’t unusual” for his task force to seize bail money under forfeiture laws. “I’d say we’ve done it maybe eight or nine times this year.”

Appeared Here


Obama’s $8,000,000,000.00 HHS Slush Fund To Mask Debilitating Effects Of ObamaCare On Seniors In Key Markets Long Enough For His Re-Election Attempt

April 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Call it President Obama’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President — a political slush fund at the Health and Human Services Department.

Only this isn’t some little fund from shadowy private sources; this is taxpayer money, redirected to help Obama win another term. A massive amount of it, too — $8.3 billion. Yes, that’s billion, with a B.

Here is how it works.

The most oppressive aspects of the ObamaCare law don’t kick in until after the 2012 election, when the president will no longer be answerable to voters. More “flexibility,” he recently explained to the Russians.

But certain voters would surely notice one highly painful part of the law before then — namely, the way it guts the popular Medicare Advantage program.

For years, 12 million seniors have relied on these policies, a more market-oriented alternative to traditional Medicare, without the aggravating gaps in coverage.

But as part of its hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts, the Obama one-size-fits-all plan slashes reimbursement rates for Medicare Advantage starting next year — herding many seniors back into the government-run program.

Under federal “open-enrollment” guidelines, seniors must pick their Medicare coverage program for next year by the end of this year — which means they should be finding out before Election Day.

Nothing is more politically volatile than monkeying with the health insurance of seniors, who aren’t too keen on confusing upheavals in their health care and are the most diligent voters in the land. This could make the Tea Party look like a tea party.

Making matters even more politically dangerous for Obama is that open enrollment begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger electoral disaster for a president than seniors in crucial states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio discovering that he’s taken away their beloved Medicare Advantage just weeks before an election.

This political ticking time bomb could become the biggest “October Surprise” in US political history.

But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.

The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.

That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

Obama can temporarily prop up Medicare Advantage long enough to get re-elected by exploiting an obscure bit of federal law. Under a 1967 statute, the HHS secretary can spend money without specific approval by Congress on “experiments” directly aimed at “increasing the efficiency and economy of health services.”

Past demonstration projects have studied new medical techniques or strategies aimed at improving care or reducing costs. The point is to find ways to lower the costs of Medicare by allowing medical technocrats to make efficient decisions without interference from vested interests.

Now Obama means to turn it on its head — diverting the money to a blatantly nonexperimental purpose to serve his political needs.

A Government Accounting Office report released this morning shows, quite starkly, that there simply is no experiment being conducted, just money being spent. Understandably, the GAO recommends that HHS cancel the project.

Congress should immediately launch an investigation into this unprecedented misuse of taxpayer money and violation of the public trust, which certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.

If he’s not stopped, Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.

Now that is some serious audacity.

Appeared Here


Blogger Exposes Major Flaw In TSA’s Body Scanners – How To Smuggle Anything Onto An Airplane – Same Scanners Europe Banned Over Cancer Concerns

March 7, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Controversial nude body scanners used at U.S. airports have come under fire again – after a blogger claimed he could easily smuggle explosives through them onto a plane.

Engineer Jonathan Corbett has published a video where he shows how he took a small metal case through two of the TSA’s $1billion fleet in a special side pocket stitched into his shirt.

This is because, he suggests, the scanners blend metallic areas into the dark background – so if an object is not directly placed on the body, it will not show up on the scan.

The metallic box, he claims, would have set off an alarm had he passed through the old detecting system.

His revelation comes just weeks after Europe banned the ‘airport strip-searches’ over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

MailOnline has decided not to publish the video because it details exactly how to circumvent the safety procedure – but it is freely available to watch online.

Corbett, standing in his living room as he speaks to the camera in the video for his ‘TSA Out of Our Pants’ blog, acknowledges the technique could be used by terrorists.

But he believes they would already know about the loophole, and took the steps to show ‘how much danger the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is putting all us all in’.
TSA

Usual: In this TSA scan the metal items, located on the traveller’s body, can clearly be seen as the body appears against a black background

TSA

Contrast: In this image, the metallic object is not directly placed on the body and so does not show up on the scan as it blends into the background

STRIP-SEARCH SCANNERS BANNED IN EUROPE OVER CANCER RISKS

Europe banned the controversial airport ‘strip-search’ scanners last year over fears the X-ray technology could cause cancer.

They emit low radiation doses and the European Union told members in November not to install them until the potential risks are assessed.

The TSA, in contrast, has continually defended their safety, saying they expose passengers to the same radiation as two minutes on a flying plane.

Britain’s Manchester Airport, which has 16 of the $125,000 ‘backscatter’ machines, was told it can continue using them for another year.

But no new machines will be allowed there. They were once used at London Heathrow but scrapped amid complaints over privacy invasion.

They have also been tested in Germany, France, Italy, Finland and Holland but will be completely banned in April if experts rule they are dangerous.

The body scanners were introduced in a security crackdown after incidents such as the attempted ‘underwear bomb’ plot in 2009.

Around 250 X-ray scanners and 264-millimetre-wave scanners are currently used in America’s airports.

Corbett, who is suing the TSA for rolling out the scanners, explained how the loophole worked.

He said: ‘Here are several images produced by TSA nude body scanners. You’ll see that the search victim is drawn with light colours and placed on a black background in both images.

‘In these samples, the individuals are concealing metallic objects that you can see as a black shape on their light figure. Again that’s light figure, black background, and black threat items.

‘Yes that’s right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same colour as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection.

‘It can’t possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can’t be that stupid, can they? Unfortunately, they can, and they are.’

He said he put his theory to the test by buying a sewing kit to sew a pocket directly onto the side of his shirt. He then took a metallic case and walked through a backscatter X-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – all of which he recorded on film.

He said: ‘While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket.

‘My camera gets placed on the conveyor belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

‘Maybe a fluke? OK, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimetre wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in.

‘With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.’

More…

‘I was embarrassed and humiliated’: TSA forces nursing mother to show freshly pumped milk in order to take breast pump on plane
Man busted for trying to smuggle marijuana into an airport in a Skippy peanut butter jar (which is banned, anyway)
US Airways worker caught in luggage conveyor belts dies

He added: ‘While I carried the metal case empty, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous seven gram rocks of cocaine.

‘With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. ‘
Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)

Dangerous? A demonstration of a full body scan (left) and a screen showing the results of the scan (right)
American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

American use: In February 2011, a trial of new ‘non-intrusive’ body scanners started at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. before they were rolled out permanently in July

While Corbett’s actions have not been independently verified, and the TSA have not commented on the video, he said it proved the organisation’s ‘disregard for safety’.

He added: ‘Now, I’m sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it’s beyond belief that the terrorists haven’t already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us.

‘It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud.’

Appeared Here


California – Most Expensive Red Light Camera Tickets In The World – Individual Cameras Earning Millions For Cities And State

February 6, 2012

CALIFORNIA – California has the most expensive red-light camera tickets in the world – the fine is so steep that one camera in Oakland generates more than $3 million a year – and a Fremont man is launching a protest group to do something about that.

If Roger Jones has his way, that freezing dread that knifes through a driver the moment he sees the overhead flash of a traffic camera will become a thing of the past.

But he’s facing quite an uphill fight against officials hungry for the cash the cameras sweep in and police who are convinced they make the roads safer.

Anyone in California snapped violating a red light pays a fine of $480, and according to the traffic-watch site TheNewspaper.com, no other jurisdiction anywhere has a tab that high. The second-highest fine in the United States is $250, and it is usually more like $100.

The Legislature passed two bills in the past two years that would have reduced the fine or limited the cameras’ use, but both were vetoed. When he killed the most recent measure, Gov. Jerry Brown said the matter should be left to local jurisdictions.

The state Department of Finance has estimated that red-light cameras bring in more than $80 million annually to the state and $50 million to cities and counties – and that, Jones and his supporters say, is the real reason they continue to snap away at motorists.

Not all $480 from each ticket goes to the cities or counties that authorize the cameras – more than half goes to the state or to the companies that run the devices. And not all tickets result in convictions.

But the haul is still out of proportion to the overall set of offenses, critics say. And so even though the fine for running a red light is the same whether a camera or a live police officer generates it, the cameras draw the fire because they can issue far more tickets than a single cop sitting at an intersection.
‘Gotcha’

“Is there a limit to how much ‘gotcha government’ we have to put up with?” asked Jones, 62, a retired distribution manager who began crusading against red-light cameras after he got a ticket from one in 2009. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

His newly formed organization, the Red Light Camera Protest Group, picketed at Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard in Fremont on Saturday, waving signs to approving honks from several motorists. It was their first protest, and the two dozen who participated plan more in the coming months – all calling for the elimination of red-light cameras and a reduction in the fine.

“I think we’d all be better off without them,” Jones said. “There are better ways to address the problem.”
Longer yellows

His foremost suggestion is to increase yellow-light durations, giving people more time to stop safely – and to avoid tickets.

After he pushed the city of Fremont in 2010 to tack 0.7 of a second onto the yellow light at Mission Boulevard and Mojave Drive, pushing it to five seconds, the city noted a 62 percent drop in red-light camera tickets there.

Jones and other camera foes also insist that rolling a red light on a right turn, also known as making a “Hollywood stop,” is not as dangerous as other violations – even though the vast majority of tickets given by most red-light cameras are for that violation.

One recent study in South San Francisco, cited in the Legislature during a 2010 debate over the issue, found that 98 percent of its tickets at one red-light camera were for rolling right turns.

Few oppose the usefulness of any device, including cameras, for reducing the number of people who blow straight through red lights. But that’s not the main issue, camera foes say.

A study last year by Safer Streets L.A., a community group opposed to traffic cameras, found that of the 56,000 annual accidents in Los Angeles, fewer than 100 are caused by rolling right turns.
Cops disagree

Law enforcement officers have a sharply different view of the topic.

City of Newark studies found that collisions at the intersections overseen by its five cameras since 2006 dropped by half – from 46 in the four years before the installations to 23 in the four years afterward.

And in Fremont, where Jones lives, police studies concluded that the city’s 10 cameras contributed significantly to a 40 percent drop in intersection accidents between 1995 and 2009. The cameras were installed in 2000.

“This is not a big moneymaker for us,” said Fremont police Sgt. Mark Riggs, who helps oversee the red-light camera program. The annual take for the city is about $250,000, after all the other parties get their cut, he said.

“It’s about safety,” Riggs said. “The big thing for us is aiming for a reduction in accidents.

“As far as the price is concerned,” he added, “we have nothing to do with that. We are simply about safety.”

As for “Hollywood stops” – he insisted they are vehicular dynamite.

“The right turn on a red is a very dangerous move, especially when the driver is looking to the left and the pedestrian is on the right,” Riggs said. “We investigate a lot of accidents like that, and they are bad.”
Lots of bucks

Despite the safety question, the price of the ticket, and the money it drags in, sticks most in the craw of those who hate red-light cameras.

Opponents consider it a form of regressive tax. The $480 tab consists of a base fine of $100, with extra fees tacked on by the Legislature to help pay for maintaining courthouses, jails, courts and emergency services.

Unlike most taxes and fees, it takes only a majority vote of the Legislature to add such charges. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, authored a bill that would have cut the ticket in half for rolling a red light, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying reducing the fine would send the wrong message to drivers about traffic safety.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, took a cut at the issue last year, writing a bill to prohibit use of the camera tickets merely to raise revenue, and to make it easier to fight them in court. That’s the bill Brown vetoed in October.

“There are accuracy issues, privacy issues and due process issues with these tickets,” Simitian said. “The trouble is that more and more cities depend on this for revenue.”

He stops short of saying red-light cameras should be eliminated, saying they do have a safety value. “I just don’t think the current system gives the public a fair shake,” he said.

Brown’s press secretary, Gil Duran, said the veto was not about money.

“Running a red light can cost lives,” he said in an e-mail. “The fine is cheap by comparison.”
Pricey corner

The sums hauled in by some of the red-light cameras in the 14 Bay Area cities that use them are anything but paltry.

The highest, apparently, is in Oakland at the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue.

In 2010, the most recent year for which city figures were available, 9,273 tickets were issued there through violation pictures – worth a gross of $4.2 million, based on the 2010 red-light ticket fine of $450. Figures available for much of 2011 put the gross worth at more than $3 million.

Ken Germann, a 65-year-old teacher who lives in Oakland, knew he was in trouble, and probably out a few bucks, the second he saw the dreaded red-light camera light flash at that intersection one day in December. But then he pulled over, watched two other cars get flashed right after him – and he got mad.

He got even madder when he found out how much the ticket fine is.

“I stopped full, and so did the others, and the camera snapped me anyway,” he said last week as he stood in line at the Alameda County courthouse to book a trial date, traffic ticket in hand. “These things must just be there to make money.”

Ticketing the family

Halfway down the block on 27th from the light, Phuong Nguyen works at MP Flowers and sees the camera light flicker all day. She shook her fist in its direction.

“Three members of my family got tickets at that light in the past month while driving to work,” she said. “Lot of money for the government, not such a good idea for the rest of us.”

Jessica Lubnieski, 27, lives a few blocks north of the light, though, and says she is grateful for it.

“I walk my dog this route all the time, and people go flying through that light when they turn,” she said as she strolled by the intersection with Cooper, her mutt. “They so often don’t even see us.

“I just have to think that camera makes people more careful.”

$480 Current fine for violating a red light in California.

$80 million Paid annually to state.

$50 million Fines paid annually to cities and counties.

$4.2 million Amount generated in 2010 by one camera near the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue in Oakland.

Appeared Here


White House Hides Obama’s Involvement And/Or Ties To Bankrupt Solyndra Company – $535 Million Loan From Feds

October 15, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Congress isn’t getting a glimpse of what’s on President Barack Obama’s Blackberry – or any more internal White House communications related to the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government.

House Republicans investigating the loan controversy had requested all internal White House documents about the issue. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chair Rep. Cliff Stearns said that includes emails on the President’s Blackberry.

On Friday the White House Counsel sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee explaining they won’t comply with the request because it “implicates longstanding and significant institutional Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

The response is hardly a surprise given past administrations’ refusal to comply with similar congressional requests. The difference here? President Obama is the first Chief Executive to carry a Blackberry, so it’s the first time a White House counsel has – even indirectly – turned down an attempt to peek at his email. Neither the Blackberry nor his personal email is explicitly mentioned in the letter.

On October 5, Republican Chairmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns requested “all communications among White House staff and officials related to the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra” because they believed “the White House was closely involved in the monitoring of the Solyndra loan guarantee after it was issued.”

They said these documents are necessary “to better understand the involvement of the White house in the review of the Solyndra loan guarantee and the Administration’s support of this guarantee.’

In her letter Friday, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said, “the three federal agencies most directly involved in the Solyndra loan guarantee, the Department of Energy, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury, are all cooperating with the Committee’s investigation into the Solyndra loan guarantee.”

Together she says the three agencies have turned over 70,000 pages of documents and are continuing to do so “on a rolling basis.” The letter states the White House has turned over another 900 pages related to communications between the White House and Solyndra, its representatives and investors. She offers to cooperate further with the investigators.

CNN has attempted to reach the Chairs of the Energy and Commerce Committee for comment. Expect some kind of political fallout.

Solyndra is a California solar panel manufacturer that had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees before it was forced to halt operations and file for bankruptcy at the end of August, putting more than 1,000 workers out of work.

Before its failure, the company had been touted as an example of the benefits of creating green jobs by the Obama administration. But since then, it has become the center of congressional criticism and a probe by the FBI.

Brian Harrison, the CEO of Solyndra, resigned Wednesday amidst the scandal.

Appeared Here


Alexandria Virginia Police Officer Angel Roa Arrested For Fraud In Salvage Car Sales Scam

April 22, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – Loudoun County authorities arrested an Alexandria police officer on fraud charges for allegedly reselling a salvaged vehicle to at least one unwitting buyer.

Angel Roa, who has served with the department for four years, is charged with obtaining money by fraud or false pretenses. Roa is now on administrative leave without pay pending the investigation’s findings, city authorities said.

Roa allegedly bought the vehicle legally, but then sold it without telling the buyer it was titled as salvaged, said Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. When the victim went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get it titled, officials told them the vehicle wasn’t roadworthy, he said.

Troxell said there may be more than one victim and are pursuing the investigation.

The Alexandria Police Department is likewise conducting an internal review, said Ashley Hildebrandt, spokeswoman. In a statement, Police Chief Earl Cook said his department takes a hard line against “inappropriate behavior” on the part of its employees.

“Officer Roa is entitled to due process, however, I want to assure residents that the Alexandria Police [Department] does not tolerate criminal or other inappropriate behavior of any kind from its employees,” Cook said.

Roa isn’t the first department employee to run into legal trouble in recent months. Det. Eric Ratliff was arrested on DUI charges after crashing his unmarked cruiser into a concrete pole on the corner of Gibbon and South Patrick streets in January.

Appeared Here


Special Program (ie: Scam) Allows Los Angeles California Police Officers And Firemen To Collect Pension While Working – Paying Lump Sums Up To A Million Dollars

March 3, 2011

LOS ANGLES, CALIFORNIA – The DROP program is an expensive public pension program that hardly anyone knows about, but pays out lump sums that average $200,000 and up to nearly a million dollars in some cases. KPCC’s Madeleine Brand spoke with KCET’s Judy Muller, who investigated the DROP program.

“DROP” stands for Deferred Retirement Option Plan. LAPD and L.A. Fire Department personnel who’ve worked for at least 25 years and are at least 50 years old can “retire,” then go back to work immediately. When they return to work, pension payments are held while they continue collecting a salary, and after five years, they can leave and collect that money in a lump-sum payment.

By postponing their retirement for five years, they accumulate pension payments (which are also collecting interest) and wages simultaneously.

One fire chief collected a $900,000 lump sump through this program. Deputy police chief Mark Leap participated in the program and, after five years, received a lump sum of $700,000 while also collecting his police salary during that five years.

Leap says the DROP program encouraged him to stay longer than he otherwise would have. He thinks it’s a great program, as do most officers.

Leap said it allowed him to continue to make contributions, while also giving him a nest egg for his retirement. Leap described it as a win-win for both himself and the city.

Since the program began, there’s been no serious audit done of cost benefits and whether the program as a whole is cost neutral.

The program was initially approved by voters in 2000 when police morale was low, following the Rampart corruption scandal and under an unpopular police chief. Veteran officers were leaving the force. The program was put in place to entice police to stay with the force.

No one’s looked at the program since then to see, when pensions are costing so much and the city is facing huge deficits in the worst times economically since the Great Depression, if this is still a good program to have on the books.

The program was billed as cost neutral, because it’s cost neutral to the pension fund itself, but it hasn’t been examined whether it’s cost neutral to the overall budget.

Officers receive money through DROP that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. Police argue that the benefit is keeping veteran officers on the job. However, it’s more expensive to pay veteran officers instead of hiring new officers for less money, and with lower pension obligations.

Former Los Angeles city administrative officer Keith Comrie says that, when he was with the city, the police union came in and suggested something like this. Comrie says he was aghast. It looked like double dipping to Comrie to be receiving a pension and salary at the same time.

Comrie is out of politics, and has little to lose or gain from his comments. The current administrative officer agreed this needs to be looked at more carefully.

Former L.A. city controller and former California inspector general Laura Chick supported DROP at one time, but now has serious questions about it. Chick says leadership isn’t looking at the program.

Chick wants to know the cost to the general fund, whether there’s still the same need to keep experienced officers as when the program began and whether it’s getting in the way of recruiting new officers.

Many current city officials haven’t taken a stance on the program yet, but they’re likely to support it due to the strength of the police and fire unions. No politician who wants to get voted into anything else is likely to go up against the unions on such a popular program.

If it could be proved that DROP was costing the city an enormous amount of money, taxpayer reaction may lead to it being looked at again, but right now, no such audit is taking place.

Appeared Here


Dallas Texas Police Officer Theadora Ross Arrested, Chared In $250,000 Theft From Crime Stoppers Program

January 28, 2011

DALLAS, TEXAS – Dallas police Senior Corporal Theadora Ross — a 26-year department veteran — said nothing after being arrested Monday.

But now we know what she’s accused of.

Ross and another woman, Malva Delley, are accused of collecting $250,000 in rewards for bogus tips to the Crime Stoppers program for more than five years.

Russell Verney, executive director of the North Texas Crime Commission, which operates Crime Stoppers says, ”It’s shocking that it happened, that it happened for so long.”

Verney says it’s not lost on him that the commission, which helps solve crimes, became a crime victim. ”A bit of irony. It’s unfortunate.”

Ross was responsible for taking anonymous tips, and selecting those eligible for a cash reward.

To pick up that reward, tipsters receive a secret code word and tip number, then go to the bank.

But Verney says one legitimate tipster called him and said something was wrong. ”An individual went to pick-up his authorized tip at the bank,” Verney said, “and was told that somebody had preceded him, and had his secret number and his secret code word.”

Verney says they temporarily shut down the program and investigated.

Prosecutors say Ross gave Delley bogus tip and information numbers to collect the cash rewards.

From there, prosecutors say Delley got the money from the bank and split it with Ross.

When we stopped by Ross’ house in Rowlett today, no one came to the door.

Today Dallas police called this indictment “a major breach of public trust.”

Dallas police and the Crime Commission say they have already changed their procedures to keep this from happening again.

The Crime Commission says Crime Stoppers continues to receive numerous tips and pay cash rewards.

Both women have pleaded not guilty in court.

Appeared Here


New Jersey Turnpike Officals Pissed Away $43 Million While Raising Tolls For Motorists

October 21, 2010

NEW JERSEY – Auditors say the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wasted $43 million on unneeded perks and bonuses. In one case, an employee with a base salary of $73,469 earned $321,985 when all payouts and bonuses were included.

The audit says that toll dollars From the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway were spent on items ranging from an employee bowling league to employee bonuses for working on birthdays and holidays.

It took place as tolls were being increased.

The biggest expense uncovered in the audit was $30 million in unjustified bonuses to employees and management in 2008 and 2009 without consideration of performance.

One example was paying employees overtime for removing snow and working holidays and then giving additional “snow removal bonuses” and “holiday bonuses.”

The Comptroller’s Office audit released Tuesday says taxpayers also paid $430,000 for free E-ZPass transponders for employees to get to work and nearly $90,000 in scholarships for workers’ kids.

The audit shows turnpike authority employees got bonuses and overtime for working their birthdays and holidays.

Comptroller Matt Boxer says tolls are set for another increase in 2012.

“While tolls are going up, the Turnpike Authority is overpaying its employees, overpaying its management, overpaying for its health plan and overpaying for legal services,” Boxer said in a statement.

Public money was also used to cover costs for a toll operators event that none of the authority’s employees actually attended.

Another audit finding was that employees were allowed to cash out a portion of their unused sick and vacation days at the end of the year to circumvent the current $15,000 limit for sick leave payouts upon retirement. That cost $3.8 million a year.

Among the questionable legal expenses was a billing for $111,840 for a law firm’s weekly internal status meetings that were generally attended by 10 to 15 of the firm’s attorneys and two to three of its paralegals.

Appeared Here


Able-Bodied Boston Massachusetts Police Officers, Officials, And Head Meter Maid Use Handicaped Spaces In Front Of Police Station, Bus Stops, And Other Tow-Zones Without Fear Of Being Ticketed Or Having Vehicles Towed

February 16, 2009

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Illegal parking in a handicapped spot is no trifling matter. Boston issues 11,000 tickets a year, each of which carries a $120 fine and often a $93 towing charge. And it is not uncommon for passersby to loudly rebuke able-bodied drivers who use parking spots reserved for the disabled.

But violators who use the 11 handicapped-designated spaces in front of Boston Police headquarters are immune from any sanction at all – or even a sidelong glance from the scores of police officers who enter and leave the building every day, according to Globe observations over the past two months.

One repeat scofflaw: the driver of a Toyota Corolla registered to Irene Landry, the city’s supervisor of Parking Enforcement, who oversees the 194 parking enforcement officers who write 1.3 million tickets a year.

When a Globe reporter called Landry’s office on Feb. 10 to ask about the Toyota, Landry was stunned. “I will investigate,” she said. “Trust me when I tell you that.”

Within five minutes of that call, her son Anthony, a police dispatcher, and three other police officials hastened out of Police Headquarters in shirtsleeves, got into their illegally parked cars, and drove away.

Most often, all prohibited parking areas around police headquarters on Tremont Street are a penalty-free zone – scores of unmarked detective cars, police evidence vans, and personal vehicles of patrol officers and sergeants are ensconced for hours at a time in spots earmarked for the disabled, and at fire hydrants, crosswalks, day-care drop-off, and MBTA bus stops – virtually all of them marked “tow zone.”

And then there are those who park where there is no signed prohibition – on sidewalks. Or those who double-park.

Globe correspondents who kept watch at headquarters never saw a ticket written, much less a tow truck, despite a stern order in August 2007 from a senior commander who ordered that illegally parked cars be ticketed hourly.

“As a law enforcement agency with the responsibility to enforce parking regulations for the general public, visible and blatant violations of parking restrictions in the vicinity of Boston Police Headquarters are unacceptable,” read the directive from Deputy Superintendent John F. Daley.

Eighteen months later, nothing much has changed. The only ticket books seen by the Globe over the six weeks’ observation were those that officers left on the dashboards of their cars – a time-honored signal to fellow officers. Others left uniform shirts hanging in back windows.

Last Wednesday, the day after police officials learned of the Globe’s interest, a handful of tickets were tucked under the windshield wipers of some of the illegally parked vehicles – though those cars sat all day in tow zones. One, a 2003 black Lincoln Town Car registered to patrolman David M. Fitzgerald, had a police ticket book on the dashboard just under the real ticket.

On Wednesday and again on Thursday, two days after police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll called such behavior unacceptable, several cars were illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots, without tickets.

What Driscoll called unacceptable, Myra Berloff, director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability, characterized as “a flagrant abuse of the law.” All motorists, Berloff said in an interview, should be aware that people who illegally use handicapped-designated spots are making life more difficult for those with disabilities. For police officers to use such spaces, she said, is outrageous.

As the 2007 police directive suggests, what the Police Department has is a chronic condition, perceived parking immunity, for which there may be no cure. Many police officers will park where they choose at headquarters and around some of the department’s district stations, with little risk that their colleagues will treat them like ordinary motorists.

If a single phone call from Irene Landry can frighten four scofflaws into instant compliance, why not have her traffic enforcement officers, who are known for taking guff from no one, write tickets around Police Headquarters?

Not possible, said Thomas J. Tinlin, the city’s Transportation Commissioner and Landry’s boss. Under longstanding policy, he said, police officers are responsible for enforcing parking rules outside their own buildings. And, Tinlin asserted, the creation of that policy was unrelated to concerns that ticketing police officers would lead to friction between the two departments.

“It would be redundant and inefficient for our parking enforcement officers to write tickets at Police Headquarters when they have a building full of people who can write tickets as well,” said Tinlin.

An estimated 600 employees work at police headquarters, a 12-year-old building constructed a stone’s throw from the Ruggles MBTA Station, but with a parking lot that accommodates only 104 vehicles. Initial plans to construct a parking garage were abandoned as too costly, Driscoll said.

The blocklong curbside along Tremont Street has spaces for fewer than 40 vehicles, all of them subject to various parking restrictions and signs designating them as tow zones.

Some cars, like Landry’s, were regular offenders. Another frequent user of handicapped spots, David McClelland, an Emergency Medical Services dispatcher who works at Police Headquarters, acknowledged in a call he returned to a reporter that he has never been ticketed there, and said he took the risk because there is so little parking in the area.

Although the Globe saw no tickets at all during the six weeks’ observation, Driscoll said officers at headquarters wrote about 200 tickets last year in front of the building and on a side street, Prentiss Street, with many of those written for department-issued unmarked cars.

Driscoll acknowledged, however, that tickets issued to city-owned vehicles are dismissed.

“This is a consistent and complicated issue, and we’re doing our best,” Driscoll said. “There’s always room for improvement.”

On Friday afternoon, after interviewing Driscoll, a Globe reporter counted six cars illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots in front of headquarters.

Appeared Here


Able-Bodied Boston Massachusetts Police Officers, Officials, And Head Meter Maid Use Handicaped Spaces In Front Of Police Station, Bus Stops, And Other Tow-Zones Without Fear Of Being Ticketed Or Having Vehicles Towed

February 16, 2009

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Illegal parking in a handicapped spot is no trifling matter. Boston issues 11,000 tickets a year, each of which carries a $120 fine and often a $93 towing charge. And it is not uncommon for passersby to loudly rebuke able-bodied drivers who use parking spots reserved for the disabled.

But violators who use the 11 handicapped-designated spaces in front of Boston Police headquarters are immune from any sanction at all – or even a sidelong glance from the scores of police officers who enter and leave the building every day, according to Globe observations over the past two months.

One repeat scofflaw: the driver of a Toyota Corolla registered to Irene Landry, the city’s supervisor of Parking Enforcement, who oversees the 194 parking enforcement officers who write 1.3 million tickets a year.

When a Globe reporter called Landry’s office on Feb. 10 to ask about the Toyota, Landry was stunned. “I will investigate,” she said. “Trust me when I tell you that.”

Within five minutes of that call, her son Anthony, a police dispatcher, and three other police officials hastened out of Police Headquarters in shirtsleeves, got into their illegally parked cars, and drove away.

Most often, all prohibited parking areas around police headquarters on Tremont Street are a penalty-free zone – scores of unmarked detective cars, police evidence vans, and personal vehicles of patrol officers and sergeants are ensconced for hours at a time in spots earmarked for the disabled, and at fire hydrants, crosswalks, day-care drop-off, and MBTA bus stops – virtually all of them marked “tow zone.”

And then there are those who park where there is no signed prohibition – on sidewalks. Or those who double-park.

Globe correspondents who kept watch at headquarters never saw a ticket written, much less a tow truck, despite a stern order in August 2007 from a senior commander who ordered that illegally parked cars be ticketed hourly.

“As a law enforcement agency with the responsibility to enforce parking regulations for the general public, visible and blatant violations of parking restrictions in the vicinity of Boston Police Headquarters are unacceptable,” read the directive from Deputy Superintendent John F. Daley.

Eighteen months later, nothing much has changed. The only ticket books seen by the Globe over the six weeks’ observation were those that officers left on the dashboards of their cars – a time-honored signal to fellow officers. Others left uniform shirts hanging in back windows.

Last Wednesday, the day after police officials learned of the Globe’s interest, a handful of tickets were tucked under the windshield wipers of some of the illegally parked vehicles – though those cars sat all day in tow zones. One, a 2003 black Lincoln Town Car registered to patrolman David M. Fitzgerald, had a police ticket book on the dashboard just under the real ticket.

On Wednesday and again on Thursday, two days after police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll called such behavior unacceptable, several cars were illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots, without tickets.

What Driscoll called unacceptable, Myra Berloff, director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability, characterized as “a flagrant abuse of the law.” All motorists, Berloff said in an interview, should be aware that people who illegally use handicapped-designated spots are making life more difficult for those with disabilities. For police officers to use such spaces, she said, is outrageous.

As the 2007 police directive suggests, what the Police Department has is a chronic condition, perceived parking immunity, for which there may be no cure. Many police officers will park where they choose at headquarters and around some of the department’s district stations, with little risk that their colleagues will treat them like ordinary motorists.

If a single phone call from Irene Landry can frighten four scofflaws into instant compliance, why not have her traffic enforcement officers, who are known for taking guff from no one, write tickets around Police Headquarters?

Not possible, said Thomas J. Tinlin, the city’s Transportation Commissioner and Landry’s boss. Under longstanding policy, he said, police officers are responsible for enforcing parking rules outside their own buildings. And, Tinlin asserted, the creation of that policy was unrelated to concerns that ticketing police officers would lead to friction between the two departments.

“It would be redundant and inefficient for our parking enforcement officers to write tickets at Police Headquarters when they have a building full of people who can write tickets as well,” said Tinlin.

An estimated 600 employees work at police headquarters, a 12-year-old building constructed a stone’s throw from the Ruggles MBTA Station, but with a parking lot that accommodates only 104 vehicles. Initial plans to construct a parking garage were abandoned as too costly, Driscoll said.

The blocklong curbside along Tremont Street has spaces for fewer than 40 vehicles, all of them subject to various parking restrictions and signs designating them as tow zones.

Some cars, like Landry’s, were regular offenders. Another frequent user of handicapped spots, David McClelland, an Emergency Medical Services dispatcher who works at Police Headquarters, acknowledged in a call he returned to a reporter that he has never been ticketed there, and said he took the risk because there is so little parking in the area.

Although the Globe saw no tickets at all during the six weeks’ observation, Driscoll said officers at headquarters wrote about 200 tickets last year in front of the building and on a side street, Prentiss Street, with many of those written for department-issued unmarked cars.

Driscoll acknowledged, however, that tickets issued to city-owned vehicles are dismissed.

“This is a consistent and complicated issue, and we’re doing our best,” Driscoll said. “There’s always room for improvement.”

On Friday afternoon, after interviewing Driscoll, a Globe reporter counted six cars illegally parked in handicapped-designated spots in front of headquarters.

Appeared Here


Luzerne County Pennsylvania Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan Sent Thousands Of Children To Prison And Pocketed $2.6 Million In Bribes

February 12, 2009

WILKES-BARRE, PENNSYLVANIA – For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.

The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles’ records expunged.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.

The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.

Ciavarella, 58, who presided over Luzerne County’s juvenile court for 12 years, acknowledged last week in a letter to his former colleagues, “I have disgraced my judgeship. My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Ciavarella, though, has denied he got kickbacks for sending youths to prison.

Conahan, 56, has remained silent about the case.

Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.

In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts – a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million – was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.

The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.

Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme.

“Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands,” he said. “These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.”

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters’ constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

The criminal charges confirmed the advocacy groups’ worst suspicions and have called into question all the sentences he pronounced.

Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal.

Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer.

“I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?” said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher.

Laurene Transue said Ciavarella “was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.”

Kurt Kruger, now 22, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn’t know his friend was going to steal anything.

Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator.

“Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed,” said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college.

“I got a raw deal, and yeah, it’s not fair,” he said, “but now it’s 100 times bigger than me.”

Appeared Here


Luzerne County Pennsylvania Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan Sent Thousands Of Children To Prison And Pocketed $2.6 Million In Bribes

February 11, 2009

WILKES-BARRE, PENNSYLVANIA – For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.

The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles’ records expunged.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.

The judges are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud Thursday in federal court. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years behind bars.

Ciavarella, 58, who presided over Luzerne County’s juvenile court for 12 years, acknowledged last week in a letter to his former colleagues, “I have disgraced my judgeship. My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Ciavarella, though, has denied he got kickbacks for sending youths to prison.

Conahan, 56, has remained silent about the case.

Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.

In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts – a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million – was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.

The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.

Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme.

“Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands,” he said. “These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.”

For years, youth advocacy groups complained that Ciavarella was ridiculously harsh and ran roughshod over youngsters’ constitutional rights. Ciavarella sent a quarter of his juvenile defendants to detention centers from 2002 to 2006, compared with a statewide rate of one in 10.

The criminal charges confirmed the advocacy groups’ worst suspicions and have called into question all the sentences he pronounced.

Hillary Transue did not have an attorney, nor was she told of her right to one, when she appeared in Ciavarella’s courtroom in 2007 for building a MySpace page that lampooned her assistant principal.

Her mother, Laurene Transue, worked for 16 years in the child services department of another county and said she was certain Hillary would get a slap on the wrist. Instead, Ciavarella sentenced her to three months; she got out after a month, with help from a lawyer.

“I felt so disgraced for a while, like, what do people think of me now?” said Hillary, now 17 and a high school senior who plans to become an English teacher.

Laurene Transue said Ciavarella “was playing God. And not only was he doing that, he was getting money for it. He was betraying the trust put in him to do what is best for children.”

Kurt Kruger, now 22, had never been in trouble with the law until the day police accused him of acting as a lookout while his friend shoplifted less than $200 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart. He said he didn’t know his friend was going to steal anything.

Kruger pleaded guilty before Ciavarella and spent three days in a company-run juvenile detention center, plus four months at a youth wilderness camp run by a different operator.

“Never in a million years did I think that I would actually get sent away. I was completely destroyed,” said Kruger, who later dropped out of school. He said he wants to get his record expunged, earn his high school equivalency diploma and go to college.

“I got a raw deal, and yeah, it’s not fair,” he said, “but now it’s 100 times bigger than me.”

Appeared Here


Duncanville Texas City Councilor Uncovers Red Light Ticket Scam – 45,000 Tickets In Town With 38,500 Residents – Wants Victims To Have The Ability To Request A Jury Trial Instead Of Current Kangaroo Court Hearings

February 4, 2009

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS – Duncanville City Council member wants to re-evaluate how the city issues citations to red-light runners and make it easier for suspected violators to request a jury trial.

Paul Ford questions the nearly 45,000 citations issued in 2008 at four intersections monitored by cameras. Compared with Duncanville’s population of 38,500, he said, the number of citations seems excessive.

Ford will ask fellow council members to vote on a proposal at tonight’s council meeting that would allow suspected violators to ask for a jury trial in municipal court. But City Manager Kent Cagle said Duncanville already allows for jury trials.

Ford says his proposal will make that option more clear to suspected violators.

Ford said the majority of violators aren’t ticketed for speeding through a red light or rolling through the light on a right-hand turn. They’re ticketed for failing to stop at the bold white line set back from the crosswalk. He said motorists can’t safely turn without inching past that line to see beyond the stopped cars and other barriers to look for oncoming traffic.

“If an individual stops safely, looks and then turns, then that should not be a violation,” he said, adding that he believes jurors would side with motorists and possibly reduce the number of tickets issued.

According to Ford, the city will take in more than $3 million from citations issued in 2008.

“These tickets are not safety-related,” Ford said. “They’re revenue-related. Period.”

But Cagle said a portion of the fines would go unpaid. He estimates that after the state takes its share, the city would receive about $400,000. That money would be used to maintain signals and make road improvements.

Anyone issued a citation can appeal the $75 ticket to an administrative law judge. In court, they will watch the suspected offense captured from the video cameras. The judge decides whether to let the ticket stand or dismiss it.

Individuals can then appeal that judge’s decision in municipal court, where they can ask for a judge or a jury trial, Cagle said.

According to municipal court administrator Lee Norton, rarely do red-light camera citations reach the municipal court level. She said that since the cameras went up in June 2006, less than a dozen people have asked for a municipal court appeal. None of those have been jury trials.

“People really think they stop,” Norton said. “But once they see the video, they see they didn’t stop.”

Cagle believes appealing to a jury would be a drain on money and time.

“If every one of these appealed went to a jury trial, I don’t think we have the capacity to do it,” Cagle said. “It would be an incredible waste. Each trial would take at least a couple of hours.”

Ford said, however, that more jury trials could reduce the number of tickets issued.

“Jury trials act as a barrier for citations that are not justified,” he said. “The end result I hope for is a much smaller number of tickets given, but issued for the right reasons.”

Cagle said city staff is looking at ways to reduce the number of citations issued if there’s a question whether the driver failed to come to a complete stop.

“If it’s really hard to tell, don’t issue a citation,” Cagle said. “People that blow right through them, in my opinion, deserve a ticket.”

Appeared Here


Red Light Ticket Scam Catches Up With Santa Ana California – City Sought To Keep Court’s Decision A Secret

February 4, 2009

SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA – The California Court of Appeal on Friday rejected a request by the city of Santa Ana to unpublish a lower court decision that could force the refund of thousands of illegally issued red light camera tickets. Earlier last month an appellate division judge with the Orange County Superior Court determined that Santa Ana had violated state law when it failed to provide a thirty-day warning period before issuing tickets at each individual intersection equipped with a red light camera (view decision).

The city maintained that it was never necessary to have operational cameras issue warning citations after a thirty-day warning period was offered at the first photo enforced intersection in 2003. Appellate Division Judge Stephen L. Perk found that the statute made no sense if construed in that manner. The city attorney was unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade the higher court that the appellate division had denied the city due process in a matter of “great concern.”

“The city of Santa Ana was fundamentally denied notice and the opportunity to be heard on an issue that has severe consequences for the city of Santa Ana, as well as other cities throughout the state,” Santa Ana City Attorney Joseph W. Fletcher argued in a brief to the Court of Appeal. “Deciding a case of this nature with briefing and oral argument by only a single party makes a sham of the adversarial system… The appellate division was robbed of the opportunity in this case to utilize the adversarial system to reach justice.”

The district attorney was properly served with all briefs and notices required during the course of the court’s proceedings, but Fletcher insisted that the city attorney’s office had sole jurisdiction over the matter. Neither party showed up for proceedings before the appellate division. In a pair of letters to defendant Thomas Fischetti prior to his trial, the city attorney’s office denied that it had jurisdiction over his case.

“The district attorney’s office is charged with prosecution of California Vehicle Code violations,” Deputy City Attorney Laura A. Rossini wrote on March 13, 2008.

“As we discussed on the telephone, the Santa Ana City Attorney’s Office is not the prosecuting agency for this citation and therefore does not have authority to dismiss it,” Rossini wrote in a second letter dated March 27.

The Santa Ana City Attorney’s Office yesterday filed papers in the Superior Court, Appellate Division demanding a rehearing of the issue, but the request is unlikely to succeed. The appellate division has already issued at least two other unpublished opinions that arrived at the same conclusion on the question of whether the thirty-day warning period applies to every intersection equipped with a camera. One decision was against the city of Santa Ana. The other involved Fischetti battling a ticket issued by the city of Costa Mesa (read decision). In 2005, the California Supreme Court declined to overturn the appellate division’s reasoning in Costa Mesa, despite urgent pleas from the California League of Cities that the case would affect the sixty-six jurisdictions using photo enforcement in the state, all of which failed to provide the appropriate warning period. The dire consequences predicted in legal briefs failed to materialize when the Costa Mesa decision remained unpublished.

The court of appeal now considers the matter closed. Unless the appellate division grants Santa Ana’s request for rehearing, the ruling will remain final and hold full precendential value in Orange County and persuasive authority throughout the rest of the state.

Appeared Here


Thousands Of Italian Motorists Fall Victim To Multi-Million Dollar Police Red Light Ticket Scam

February 4, 2009

ITALY – Thousands of drivers in Italy are expected to seek compensation after it was revealed that a system to catch them jumping red lights was rigged.

More than 100 people, including police officers, are being investigated as part of the fraud.

The T-Redspeed system – a revolutionary camera technology – has been in use for two years in 300 areas across Italy.

Cameras linked to traffic lights capture 3-d images of vehicles if they jump the lights or are speeding.

It can also detect offences like illegal u-turns.

Fraudulent fines

It is believed more than a million drivers have been trapped by the system.

But it is now claimed the lights were rigged to change from yellow to red in three seconds instead of the regulation five or six seconds.

The fraud was uncovered by a senior police officer who noticed an unusually high number of fines being issued.

Instead of an average 15 fines a day in some places, the figure jumped to more than 1,000.

The fraud may have netted as much as $170m (£116.4m) for those involved.

The scheme’s inventor is now under house arrest, though his lawyers say he is innocent.

More than 100 other people including 63 police commanders are also being investigated as part of the scam.

Appeared Here


Duncanville Texas City Councilor Uncovers Red Light Ticket Scam – 45,000 Tickets In Town With 38,500 Residents – Wants Victims To Have The Ability To Request A Jury Trial Instead Of Current Kangaroo Court Hearings

February 4, 2009

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS – Duncanville City Council member wants to re-evaluate how the city issues citations to red-light runners and make it easier for suspected violators to request a jury trial.

Paul Ford questions the nearly 45,000 citations issued in 2008 at four intersections monitored by cameras. Compared with Duncanville’s population of 38,500, he said, the number of citations seems excessive.

Ford will ask fellow council members to vote on a proposal at tonight’s council meeting that would allow suspected violators to ask for a jury trial in municipal court. But City Manager Kent Cagle said Duncanville already allows for jury trials.

Ford says his proposal will make that option more clear to suspected violators.

Ford said the majority of violators aren’t ticketed for speeding through a red light or rolling through the light on a right-hand turn. They’re ticketed for failing to stop at the bold white line set back from the crosswalk. He said motorists can’t safely turn without inching past that line to see beyond the stopped cars and other barriers to look for oncoming traffic.

“If an individual stops safely, looks and then turns, then that should not be a violation,” he said, adding that he believes jurors would side with motorists and possibly reduce the number of tickets issued.

According to Ford, the city will take in more than $3 million from citations issued in 2008.

“These tickets are not safety-related,” Ford said. “They’re revenue-related. Period.”

But Cagle said a portion of the fines would go unpaid. He estimates that after the state takes its share, the city would receive about $400,000. That money would be used to maintain signals and make road improvements.

Anyone issued a citation can appeal the $75 ticket to an administrative law judge. In court, they will watch the suspected offense captured from the video cameras. The judge decides whether to let the ticket stand or dismiss it.

Individuals can then appeal that judge’s decision in municipal court, where they can ask for a judge or a jury trial, Cagle said.

According to municipal court administrator Lee Norton, rarely do red-light camera citations reach the municipal court level. She said that since the cameras went up in June 2006, less than a dozen people have asked for a municipal court appeal. None of those have been jury trials.

“People really think they stop,” Norton said. “But once they see the video, they see they didn’t stop.”

Cagle believes appealing to a jury would be a drain on money and time.

“If every one of these appealed went to a jury trial, I don’t think we have the capacity to do it,” Cagle said. “It would be an incredible waste. Each trial would take at least a couple of hours.”

Ford said, however, that more jury trials could reduce the number of tickets issued.

“Jury trials act as a barrier for citations that are not justified,” he said. “The end result I hope for is a much smaller number of tickets given, but issued for the right reasons.”

Cagle said city staff is looking at ways to reduce the number of citations issued if there’s a question whether the driver failed to come to a complete stop.

“If it’s really hard to tell, don’t issue a citation,” Cagle said. “People that blow right through them, in my opinion, deserve a ticket.”

Appeared Here


Red Light Ticket Scam Catches Up With Santa Ana California – City Sought To Keep Court’s Decision A Secret

February 4, 2009

SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA – The California Court of Appeal on Friday rejected a request by the city of Santa Ana to unpublish a lower court decision that could force the refund of thousands of illegally issued red light camera tickets. Earlier last month an appellate division judge with the Orange County Superior Court determined that Santa Ana had violated state law when it failed to provide a thirty-day warning period before issuing tickets at each individual intersection equipped with a red light camera (view decision).

The city maintained that it was never necessary to have operational cameras issue warning citations after a thirty-day warning period was offered at the first photo enforced intersection in 2003. Appellate Division Judge Stephen L. Perk found that the statute made no sense if construed in that manner. The city attorney was unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade the higher court that the appellate division had denied the city due process in a matter of “great concern.”

“The city of Santa Ana was fundamentally denied notice and the opportunity to be heard on an issue that has severe consequences for the city of Santa Ana, as well as other cities throughout the state,” Santa Ana City Attorney Joseph W. Fletcher argued in a brief to the Court of Appeal. “Deciding a case of this nature with briefing and oral argument by only a single party makes a sham of the adversarial system… The appellate division was robbed of the opportunity in this case to utilize the adversarial system to reach justice.”

The district attorney was properly served with all briefs and notices required during the course of the court’s proceedings, but Fletcher insisted that the city attorney’s office had sole jurisdiction over the matter. Neither party showed up for proceedings before the appellate division. In a pair of letters to defendant Thomas Fischetti prior to his trial, the city attorney’s office denied that it had jurisdiction over his case.

“The district attorney’s office is charged with prosecution of California Vehicle Code violations,” Deputy City Attorney Laura A. Rossini wrote on March 13, 2008.

“As we discussed on the telephone, the Santa Ana City Attorney’s Office is not the prosecuting agency for this citation and therefore does not have authority to dismiss it,” Rossini wrote in a second letter dated March 27.

The Santa Ana City Attorney’s Office yesterday filed papers in the Superior Court, Appellate Division demanding a rehearing of the issue, but the request is unlikely to succeed. The appellate division has already issued at least two other unpublished opinions that arrived at the same conclusion on the question of whether the thirty-day warning period applies to every intersection equipped with a camera. One decision was against the city of Santa Ana. The other involved Fischetti battling a ticket issued by the city of Costa Mesa (read decision). In 2005, the California Supreme Court declined to overturn the appellate division’s reasoning in Costa Mesa, despite urgent pleas from the California League of Cities that the case would affect the sixty-six jurisdictions using photo enforcement in the state, all of which failed to provide the appropriate warning period. The dire consequences predicted in legal briefs failed to materialize when the Costa Mesa decision remained unpublished.

The court of appeal now considers the matter closed. Unless the appellate division grants Santa Ana’s request for rehearing, the ruling will remain final and hold full precendential value in Orange County and persuasive authority throughout the rest of the state.

Appeared Here


Thousands Of Italian Motorists Fall Victim To Multi-Million Dollar Police Red Light Ticket Scam

February 4, 2009

ITALY – Thousands of drivers in Italy are expected to seek compensation after it was revealed that a system to catch them jumping red lights was rigged.

More than 100 people, including police officers, are being investigated as part of the fraud.

The T-Redspeed system – a revolutionary camera technology – has been in use for two years in 300 areas across Italy.

Cameras linked to traffic lights capture 3-d images of vehicles if they jump the lights or are speeding.

It can also detect offences like illegal u-turns.

Fraudulent fines

It is believed more than a million drivers have been trapped by the system.

But it is now claimed the lights were rigged to change from yellow to red in three seconds instead of the regulation five or six seconds.

The fraud was uncovered by a senior police officer who noticed an unusually high number of fines being issued.

Instead of an average 15 fines a day in some places, the figure jumped to more than 1,000.

The fraud may have netted as much as $170m (£116.4m) for those involved.

The scheme’s inventor is now under house arrest, though his lawyers say he is innocent.

More than 100 other people including 63 police commanders are also being investigated as part of the scam.

Appeared Here