Rebellion mounting vs. speed cameras
Soon-to-be-former Governor Janet Napolitano is a big fan of road-side speed cameras. That's no surprise, since revenue from speeding tickets issued by robo-cameras prominently features in her plan for closing the state's yawning budget gap. But the governor's enthusiasm for the money-making speed traps is easily matched by opponents' visceral distaste for the automated spy-eyes -- a distaste that has translated into a clever campaign of sabotage.
Cameras aren't much use with their lenses covered, but why use Post-it notes? The choice of the familiar bits of sticky paper as blindfolds for speed cameras in incidents across the valley in recent weeks is a bit obscure, unless you know about reports that a representative of Redflex, the speed camera vendor, responded to an inquiry into the use of fraudulent data to convict accused speeders by scrawling a few lines on a Post-it note. Secretary of State Jan Brewer denies the story, but it was too good for anti-camera activists to let pass.
Post-it notes -- pretty funny. They disable the hated cameras and make a statement without getting activists into too much legal hot water.
But there's more than one way to disable a speed camera. Just as the Post-it note capers hit the news, a video of individuals unknown obscuring the lenses of Arizona speed cameras with silly string appeared on YouTube. Appropriately, given Redflex's Australian roots, the video was set to the jaunty tune, "Land Down Under."
Chances are that neither state nor company officials appreciated the video's clever production values. It was pulled down after just a few days.
Arizonans might not be so resistant to speed cameras if state officials had stuck to their original story that the devices were about improving highway safety, not raking in cash. But once "Highway Photo Radar" appeared in the governor's budget as an expected source of revenue for state government, the cat was out of the bag. A supposed effort to eliminate speeding on state roads doesn't square with reliance on $90 million collected from speeders to shore up Arizona's wobbly finances. And the legitimacy of that revenue stream is just a bit iffy in the wake of the revelations about fraudulent convictions that sparked the Post-it note rebellion.
Arizona officials can defend the use of speed cameras to raise revenue all they want, but they have a problem on their hands. The opposition started with the usual public demonstrations by groups like CameraFraud, and has now graduated to sabotage. Based on experiences elsewhere, this is only the beginning.
In the UK, Australia, Maryland and points beyond, road-side peeping toms have been pulled from the ground, spray-painted, smashed, burned and otherwise rendered not-so-revenue-enhancing. In Britain, a shadowy character known as "Captain Gatso" has organized endless efforts to turn more than 1,000 cameras into expensive scrap metal since 2000. The captain recently announced a renewed campaign of sabotage.
And just this past week, a speed camera on the Loop 101 was attacked with a pickaxe, perhaps signaling that escalation in opposition tactics has begun.
Grassroots resistance has yet to end the use of road-side cameras -- so far. But Arizona officials should consider building heavy repair and replacement estimates for their money-making gadgets into their revenue predictions.
Or maybe they could find a way to balance the budget that inspires less rebellion.
This column was published December 7, 2008 by The Arizona Republic