The spin doctors in the Columbia City Manager’s Office have been hard at work twisting the reports regarding the city’s red light cameras. They claim that the red light cameras are to thank for fewer accidents at the intersections where they are installed. Both of our local papers have printed these claims without so much as a peep regarding the legitimacy of the study, so let’s break it down.

The Missourian reported that according to the CPD “the number of accidents declined by 10.6 percent in the intersections after red-light cameras were installed, from 157 to 142 in comparable time periods.”

The city manager’s office is touting this drop as proof that the cameras are working and the local media is apparently buying it. Take a look at this headline from the Trib: “Cameras lead to city profits, fewer crashes”. At least the Trib got the “profit” part correct.

Now, that’s all well and good until one looks at the bigger picture. What does it really mean to simply point out that the number of accidents declined under the watchful eye of Big Brother Gatso? It really means nothing unless we have more data to compare.

For instance, what was the traffic count before the cameras? Were there simply more cars traveling through the camera intersections before the cameras? Higher traffic volume would mean more potential accidents. Fewer cars after the camera installation would mean fewer crashes. Of course, this information didn’t make it to the public eye.

What about comparing the number of accidents at non-camera intersections to the camera monitored intersections during the same time period? Perhaps accident rates dropped at all intersections across the city. What if the rate of accidents actually dropped by a larger number at non-camera intersections? Would the city then claim that the Gatso cameras are causing accidents? Could Columbians then sue Gatso?

How about looking at the rate of overall traffic accidents citywide? Are Columbians simply becoming better drivers as the economy continues to falter and insurance rates go up?

Maybe I’m wrong and maybe the rest of the numbers do support the notion that cameras equal safety, but doesn’t it seem just a wee bit disingenuous for the city to not conduct a complete study or release all of the statistics to the press? The numbers printed by both of Columbia’s major newspapers are meaningless, but that doesn’t matter to the majority of readers or voters. I fear that most people will read right over the story believing that if it’s printed it must be true and go right back to dreaming of being a contestant on American Idol.

What I do know is that the city’s original estimate that claimed the city’s camera system wouldn’t break even was wrong. These camera-jockey bureaucrats added over $18,000 in profit to their coffers. Heck, the international mega-corporation Gatso pocketed over $58,000 from the wallets of the citizens of our little city and will continue to profit as long as their cameras fail to stop red light violations.

 And the Tribune printed this little gem from the lame duck city manager Bill Watkins,

“The discussions with Gatso have shown that at other intersections, it has reduced some of the red-light running,” Watkins said. “At some of the intersections that the initial intersection study indicated should have them, it is not as much of a problem.”

I’m a little confused by this statement, but it seems that Bill is relying on information from the for-profit camera company to determine the need for and the effectiveness of its product. He probably received his talking points at the same meeting. Who runs this city anyway, the voters or Gatso?

I also know that the over $18,000 profit comes after our already bulging city bureaucracy grew to the tune of nearly $82,000 to fund the tasks surrounding ticketing. I guess taking from the pockets of citizens in order to grow government is stimulus, right?

When a city bureaucracy learns to self-fund through partnerships with multinational mega-corporations, nothing good can come of it.


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