Recently there’s been lots of road work going on here in Wichita. A cable median on K-96, bridge work on Kellogg, ramp re-construction on I-235, and re-surfacing on I-135. It’s a pain, but these projects do give us better and safer roads to drive on. But just prior to the start of 2011 I started noticing domed camera rigs being put up on poles on Wichita highways. Now when I noticed this, I didn’t panic. One of the perks of working for Wichita’s News Leader is that I am pretty well informed about what’s going on here in town. I immediately heard (I answer the phones here, trust me I heard…ugh) all the uproar about the City and Police using so called “speed cameras” to ticket speeders by simply capturing video of the infraction and automatically making out the ticket.
Which is of course completely absurd.
The U.K. uses cameras for traffic enforcement, but has had lots of legal problems getting the program off the ground. Here in the U.S. we have 4th Amendment protection (before some of you reach for Wikipedia, that’s search and seizure.) And the 4th Amendment has been used pretty successfully to combat the use of automated cameras for traffic enforcement. I’m not saying there aren’t places in the country that aren’t trying speed camera programs. But they aren’t anything more than just trial programs. Here in Kansas and Sedgwick County traffic cameras are NOT approved for traffic enforcement, and it’s even a fine point law whether or not evidence gathered by a traffic camera is even admissible as evidence in any kind of trial.
Now the paranoids out there (they call me a lot in the overnight hours, if you didn’t know already my hours are from midnight to 9 AM after the Steve and Ted Show) do not believe that is true. I’ve already had multiple arguments with them when trying to educate them about traffic cameras. It usually goes something like this…
Delusional, irrational, stubborn, uninformed, and paranoid listener: “You can’t tell me they aren’t making money off of us drivers by using those cameras and mailing tickets out. I heard from a friend of a friend who got one.”
Me: “I can tell you that. I am telling you that. They aren’t and CAN’T use those cameras to give out tickets. And your friend, his friend, or both are liars.”
Ok, I’m just venting now. It’s just that I hear it all the time (about a lot of topics) and it bothers me to hear complaints from people who refuse to listen to fact. So, I’ve talked with KDOT officials and am presenting the following facts:
1. Wichita’s new traffic cameras were paid for as a part of a federal stimulus program which gave cities the money for traffic cameras.
2. The cameras are not “speed cameras” and cannot determine if someone is speeding or not. They physically lack the equipment, hardware, and programming necessary to do such a thing.
3. The video captured by these cameras will be available to the local police agencies… it’s also will be available to EVERYONE ELSE too. Their primary function is to show current traffic conditions and weather conditions to anyone who wants to know it before heading out.
So there it is, a useful and helpful tool that anyone can use. K-DOT hasn’t yet finished the website for Wichita traffic. But feeds from some of the cameras (right now the turnpike ones) can be seen here. I’m not saying that cameras will NEVER BE used to give out speeding tickets, or that Wichita will NEVER participate in a program for “speed cameras.” Just that at this time they do not.
Wow, I really should have toned down that rant, A page plus and I haven’t even gotten to the reason for this blog update… a new scam. That’s right, a scam involving the previously mentioned traffic cameras. People have been getting e-mails or phone calls from someone claiming to be cops, clerks, or some kind of government official saying that they (the City, County, or State; whomever they are pretending to be) are trying to collect a fine that you have not paid based upon a ticket you got automatically by driving too fast past a camera. Usually they will threaten court dates or jail for non-compliance. They phish for personal information and will usually offer to let you pay by phone by giving out your credit card number.
Do I even have to say it?
It’s a scam; they are playing off of people’s fear and paranoia of the cameras and their general willingness to pay a fine rather than try to “fight the system.” The Police, City, or County will never try and contact you by e-mail about a fine. And they do not phone to collect debts, you have to call them to do that via phone (and I’m not sure they even offer that yet, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a ticket.)
So don’t be fooled by it. I don’t like the idea of scammers making money in any scheme. But personally, I don’t mind the idea of “speed cameras.” I hear plenty (doing traffic updates) of complaints about speed traps and radar locations. The caller will usually say something like, “The City’s trying to make some money on Kellogg by West Street this morning. They should be out fighting REAL crime instead.”
Really? Well here’s the answer I don’t have time to give folks with that attitude over the phone...
“Would you rather that speeder is left free to t-bone a school bus and kill 20 or 30 children?”
Besides, perhaps it’s just my vindictive and petty nature, but I don’t mind the idea of the City making money off of speeders. It’s just another dollar they won’t have to raise MY taxes to get. It’s like a tax on the stupid.
I can live with that.