Policing for a Profit Comes to a Pennsylvania Town Near You

One of the most blatant examples of “Policing for a Profit” are red-light cameras, so much so that when lawmakers discuss the benefits of installing them, the whole discussion focuses on revenue and not safety:

Pennsylvania DUI and Traffic Enforcement is Motivated by Greed not Safety
Pennsylvania DUI and Traffic Enforcement is Motivated by Greed not Safety

State sees green in red-light cameras

Six years ago, Philadelphia began using cameras at red lights to ticket dangerous drivers.

Will other towns and cities across Pennsylvania soon get the green light?

A panel appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett has recommended a statewide expansion of traffic-light cameras. The Transportation Funding Advisory Commission says it could generate more money for highway and bridge repairs, and it could make roads safer.

The proposal is sparking a sharp debate between transportation officials and critics who say the cameras don’t make roads safer.

While the question of safety is debated, there is growing evidence that the cameras can provide much-needed revenue.

“The goal of the governor’s commission is to find $2.5 billion in recurring revenue after five years, and that’s what we’re trying to do in part with this particular recommendation,” said Dennis Buterbaugh, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“If any of these recommendations can also increase safety or driver convenience, then we’re really going after them,” Buterbaugh said.

The commission must issue its final report by Aug. 1. Any expansion of traffic-light cameras in Pennsylvania would require approval from the General Assembly and the governor.

Philadelphia began using cameras at stoplights for traffic enforcement in 2005. State lawmakers approved the program in 2002, but it was three years before the cameras went up.

The city employs 70 red-light cameras monitoring 15 intersections for speeders. Data from the Philadelphia Parking Authority indicates the strategy can be lucrative: Total revenues collected between April 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, topped $11 million, with about $6 million in expenses.

The PPA issued more than 127,000 citations and nearly 6,000 warnings in that year. That’s up from about 90,000 citations issued in the previous two years and about 25,000 during the two years before that.

“If we’re going to look at this as a good revenue source [for the state], we certainly would have to expand the language and allow for more intersections,” Buterbaugh said.

The whole motivation is money, not safety. The supporting evidence is dollars signs not safety figures. Does this sound familiar? It should, because this is the exact same way DUI enforcement is treated. Here in Pennsylvania, DUI checkpoints are setup on roadways to rake in the profits from non-DUI equipment enforcement infractions or warrants being served, but does nothing to curb the drunk driving problem. Similarly, many very effective educational and treatment based programs are shunned in favor of those that generate more revenue.

Keep in mind, whether it’s speeding or drunk driving, it’s money not your safety that matters.

Justin McShane

PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Avvo.com. Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.

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