Friday, November 6, 2009

American voters get rid of mayor along with speed cameras

It was American democracy in its purest form: three towns voting overwhelmingly to get their hated police speed cameras torn down — and to eject from office a mayor who had opposed the move.

Lost in all the analysis of what Republican wins in two gubernatorial elections on Tuesday meant for President Obama were three ballot initiatives — two in Ohio and one in Texas — to introduce a law ridding the towns of their traffic enforcement cameras.

In College Station, Texas, voters succeeded in dumping the cameras despite the manufacturers of the devices spending $60,000 (£36,000) on a campaign to keep them in place.

Voters in Chillicothe, southern Ohio, declared their opposition to the cameras by 72 per cent. The mayor of Heath, Ohio, who had been spotted removing anti-camera campaign posters from an intersection, lost his re-election bid.

The anti-camera crusaders in Ohio call themselves Citizens Against Photo Enforcement, or CAPE. Although most voters backed their campaign because they hate getting speed camera photographs in the post with a fine attached, CAPE based its opposition to the cameras on nothing less than the US Constitution.

They argued that the fines triggered by the speed photographs were a violation of due process because there was no right of appeal against the tickets except for a local hearing.

After Tuesday’s ballots 11 towns have now voted to get rid of the machines. Earlier this year, the Republican Governor of Mississippi abandoned them. In 2005 the Republican Governor of Maryland tried to veto a Bill authorising the cameras because they allowed police to “charge, try and convict an individual solely through use of a photograph”.

The police and road safety groups all argue, citing numerous studies, that speed cameras help to lower the accident and road death rate, but the rage against them by some citizens knows no bounds. In April, a technician servicing a camera in Arizona was shot dead.

Campaigners in Chillicothe also argued that the cameras hurt business, saying that motorists avoided the city to keep away from speed devices.

Before the town’s vote, the police chief, Roger Moore, held a press conference arguing that the wording of the new law, if passed by voters, could mean that his officers would be banned from using any speed-detecting device. The law reads that there is now a ban on “any electronic, photographic, video, radar laser or digital system used to produce evidence of an alleged traffic violation”.

Mr Moore said: “Any, to me, means all the radar and cameras we use. I believe the way it’s worded would prevent my officers from enforcing the law. I think as the position of chief of police, my ultimate responsibility is to keep Chillicothe safe. Anything that affects the citizens negatively or impacts their safety, I have the obligation to speak out.”

Source: Times Online

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