Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fines and misdemeanors

Something that just drifted below the radar screen of the many reporters attending the Mayor's speech Sunday was a glib mention of a "vehicle and traffic law violation surcharge" that will be used to jackhammer home the Spa City's new public safety building by 2008. Basically, what this means is the City Court will impose an additional fee that will go into a slush fund to defray building costs.

For most law abiding citizens, this is probably a good thing. All the morons busted for doing high-speed fun-runs down the main drag over the summer will have to contribute a bit more cash to building a new police station instead of their neon undercarriage lighting.

This initiative could also have the effect of a new era of hyper-enforcement throughout the city. As the mayor less than succinctly explained Sunday, the police aren't to keen on their present locale. So as logic would have it, they'd do just about anything to raise money for a new state-of-the-art station, even if that means a pile more paperwork and issuing citations in cases that would normally be overlooked or dismissed with a mere warning.

Rolling stop? That's a ticket. Inspection three days expired? That's a citation. Run a yellow light? Book'em Lou.

And while no one in City Hall believes these surcharges will pay for the new structure, the realized revenue from ramped up traffic citations could give lawmakers another idea that is taking on steam many of the major metropolises in the North East. Instead of having the beat cops keep an eye peeled for violators, the city could have big brother do it for them, then reap the benefits of $75-per-violation fees that are as easy to collect as parking tickets.

So far, the cities of Providence, R.I., Boston, Mass., and New York City have all reaped the benefits of having cameras at intersections. In Providence, the monitored intersections are privately contracted out and cost the city about $4,600 per month. On average, each light sees about 17 infractions a day, giving the city an added revenue stream of roughly $403,000 per year per intersection. That's big money and cash that no municipality really cares to ignore. Of course, the system does have it's flaws.

The bottom line is using the law to fill city coffers is a bit of a slippery slope when it comes to civil rights, and one that shouldn't be treaded on lightly. From the outset, it doesn't sound like Keehn or the council have any ulterior motives, other than to help finance what will likely be an expensive project. But it's not too far of a stretch to think about future applications of these policies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't care what the police are complaining about, they need to stay downtown. This is about character. Saratoga isn't a McCity, and that's partly because there is a downtown pulse, and the police need to be part of that, and they can't if they're headquartered over on East Ave. The death of the small town sheriff will spell the rise of harsh and mediocre policing.

8:09 AM  

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