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Balancing the Demand for Smarter Government with Public Pushback of Methods Used


Law enforcement-implemented safety measures proven to save lives, still raise eyebrows

During the last decade, Americans have enjoyed the satisfaction of increased public safety, as proven by the decline of violent and property crime rates and the number of traffic crashes. Despite these positive changes, there has been pushback regarding the methods used by law enforcement to promote public safety — in particular, the use of red light safety cameras and data-driven policing.

What’s the purpose of red light safety cameras?

Red light safety cameras have been used worldwide since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s that the safety device really took hold in the United States. Cameras are typically installed in high-profile intersections, with the hope of reducing the number of red light violations and, in turn, crashes.

According to statistics provided by American Traffic Solutions, the cost of a traffic fatality in 2013 cost society $6.42 million, a 100 percent increase from $3.2 million in 2005. By the same token, the community’s cost for an injury crash went up from $68,170 in 2005 to $134,843 in 2013. Additionally, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that private insurance companies pay 50 percent of societal costs associated with every traffic crash. Adjusting for inflation, crashes only become more costly as time goes on.

However, the use of red light safety cameras saved 159 lives and reduced red-light running fatalities by 24 percent in 14 of the largest populated U.S. cities. If the trend continues, the use of cameras at intersections could save the insurance industry billions of dollars in crash-related expenses by reducing the number of red light violations.

There is no disputing that red light cameras have a positive impact on safe driving — however, these devices are not wholly popular among the American public. The argument stands: Are red light cameras installed more for safety or generating revenue? Indeed, it could be both.

Take, for example, the recent trial of former Chicago city official John Bills. Bills was a key player in developing Chicago’s red light camera program, making it the largest and most lucrative in the U.S. Public records show that revenue exceeded $68 million in 2013, a huge leap from the $21,600 the program generated just 10 years prior, in 2003. In January 2016, Bills was charged with wire fraud, bribery, extortion, income tax evasion and conspiracy, and found guilty of all charges. It was found that he took up to $2 million in bribes and gifts in return for steering tens of millions of dollars in red light camera contracts to an Arizona company.

So, should cities hit the brakes on red light cameras? Only time will tell — but it could pose risks to city budgets, and clearly to overall public safety, as ending red light camera programs will likely result in more lives lost.

Do data-driven models create more effective policing?

In conjunction with red light safety cameras, law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented data-driven policing tactics as a means of targeting hot spots of crime and crash activity.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (, Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) “integrates location-based crime and traffic crash data to determine the most effective methods for deploying law enforcement and other resources. Drawing on the deterrent value of highly visible traffic enforcement and the knowledge that crimes often involve motor vehicles, the goal of DDACTS is to reduce crime, crashes and traffic violations across the country.”

Police departments have a vast amount of data at their fingertips, including types of incidents, time of day, day of the week and location. Collection and analysis of the data helps identify hot spots, and deeper analysis can distinguish additional causation factors. Such sophisticated knowledge allows law enforcement officials to increase their efficiency and effectiveness, by deploying officers to the right place at the right time to help deter crime and other community issues.

Although human judgement is still necessary in most, if not all, situations, utilizing data can cut down on the possibility of emotions and other biases clouding law enforcement decisions. However, today’s society should proceed with caution despite the promises of data-driven policing. After all, the algorithms used to determine hot spots of activity are only as good as the information input into the system.

For example, we live in a world that deals with concern of over-policing in minority communities. If data systems predict a heavy concentration of crime or traffic violations in those communities and police are dispatched to those particular locations, the stereotypes persists and have the ability to cause serious issues.

As our reliance on technology continues to grow, we are afforded more opportunities to utilize it to society’s advantage. But, we can only improve by educating ourselves on all options and employing common sense solutions.


Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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