Thursday, December 01, 2005


In the title to this blog, we use the term “video surveillance,” as that is a forthright description of what we are talking about. You may call it “Big Brother.” Sugar coating video surveillance by calling it “red light cameras,” may make it more acceptable in the short run. But we may want to step up and say that video surveillance by the police, in a public place, is an acceptable practice in law enforcement; and in such case, we should discard the euphemisms.

Mayor Martin Chavez is a leader in this form of law enforcement, and he should be commended. We ought to encourage him and the police to use video surveillance for deterrence of speeders, red light runners, stop sign runners, drivers who change lanes illegally, impaired drivers, tailgaters, and other dangerous drivers. No one has a right to drive dangerously in a motor vehicle on the public roadways.

This is a limited government, a government of delegated powers, so it is not accurate to say that driving of a motor vehicle is a privilege. It is a right. However, it may be regulated, or limited, for the protection of public health and safety. So we are back to the point: no one has a right to drive dangerously in a motor vehicle on the public roadways. We have laws against it, the laws are within the law-making power of the Legislature (and City legislature), and the laws should be enforced. These are generalities with which most citizens would agree. Here, now, is where we part company.

How and when and in what circumstances, do we enforce the law against speeding? Today, if the law is enforced, it is hit and miss. If the speeder causes an accident, the speeding may come to the attention of the police. If a police person is in a vehicle on the highway, the speeder may be detected, with or without radar. If a police person is in a crow’s nest atop a machine used to lift workers into the air for tree trimming, telephone line repair, and the like, the speeder may be detected. Apprehension is another matter. Prosecution is another matter. Apprehension entails danger to the police person who makes the physical stop, and to other people on the roadway. Prosecution requires time and effort, appearance of witnesses, etc. Video makes conviction more certain and deters trial demands in cases where there is no honest defense.

Once the speeder is detected and apprehended, and prosecuted (commencing with summons), the question arises, what is the appropriate punishment? One dollar, ten dollars, or one hundred dollars fine, for each mile over the posted speed limit? People would balk at the idea that one mile over the limit should draw a $300 fine, would they not? But isn’t that someone’s suggestion for a fine for school zone speeding? They say a drunk driver drives drunk 1,200 times for each time she is caught. How many times does a speeder speed for each time she is caught? Is it not obvious that certainty of detection and prosecution will be adequate deterrence, without draconian fines? If you take off for Santa Fe from Albuquerque, unless you are in dire circumstances, you will not speed if you are certain to be detected and prosecuted, even if the fine is relatively modest.

We as the majority have a right to punish speeders; but we have an obligation to catch as many guilty as we reasonably can, so that the ones who are caught and prosecuted do not have to pay for the crimes of the many. For each crime, someone pays a fine; but it is not always the one who commits the crime. In these days of modern technology in law enforcement, it is not right to make A pay for her crime and for the crime of B, if we can easily make each pay for her own offense.

The use of video surveillance of our roadways will enable our police to detect and prosecute traffic offenders. The placement of such cameras in many different locations, on and about the roadways, will make our streets and highways safer for all. We drive from North 14 down South to Interstate 40, and often see two Sheriff’s vehicles sitting beside the highway, watching for traffic offenders. If we had a half dozen video surveillance cameras on Highway 14 North, would not that accomplish the job?

How should we handle the prosecution, after we have detected the dangerous driver, and if we do not immediately apprehend him? Now, in Albuquerque, the matter is handled as a civil infraction, nuisance-type offense, and the citation goes out from Arizona to the address of the registered owner. Some objected to that, because the registered owner is automatically suspected of being the driver when the vehicle runs a red light, for example. That is a hyper-technical defense which ought to be rejected.

If a motor vehicle is operated, on the roadway, it may be presumed in the law, to be operated by its registered owner. The presumption is rebuttable, but in the absence of a sworn denial by the registered owner, the presumption should be adequate for conviction of a crime, including DWI and vehicular homicide. These examples may arise after an accident and when the police arrive there is no driver around, or there are several persons around and none acknowledges driving the offender vehicle.

Finally, it might not be necessary to cite an offending driver, even for a civil infraction. The police could install the cameras, put the results on line, and invite the insurance companies to the database. We could use the Arizona firm, for instance, but not pay by the infraction cited, but by the day or month.

Imagine that your driving habits are going on line, for your insurance company to see or review; for some trial lawyer to see or review in case of an accident even months later, etc. Would this prospect get your attention? All of us would be able to look online and see and review infractions of the law in video. We could eliminate favoritism, ticket fixing, and the like. Big Citizens keeping a watch on the offenders, and on the law enforcement authorities.

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