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Today’s number: 13,000

Friday, Jul 18, 2014

* Uh-oh

Thousands of Chicago drivers have been tagged with $100 red light fines they did not deserve, targeted by robotic cameras during a series of sudden spikes in tickets that city officials say they cannot explain, a Tribune investigation has found.

The Tribune’s analysis of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007 and a deeper probe of individual cases revealed clear evidence that the deviations in Chicago’s network of 380 cameras were caused by faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.


A 10-month Tribune investigation documented more than 13,000 questionable tickets at 12 intersections that experienced the most striking spikes; similar patterns emerged at dozens of other intersections responsible for tens of thousands more tickets. Among the key findings:

Cameras that for years generated just a few tickets daily suddenly caught dozens of drivers a day. One camera near the United Center rocketed from generating one ticket per day to 56 per day for a two-week period last summer before mysteriously dropping back to normal.

Tickets for so-called rolling right turns on red shot up during some of the most dramatic spikes, suggesting an unannounced change in enforcement. One North Side camera generated only a dozen tickets for rolling rights out of 100 total tickets in the entire second half of 2011. Then, over a 12-day spike, it spewed 563 tickets — 560 of them for rolling rights.

Many of the spikes were marked by periods immediately before or after when no tickets were issued — downtimes suggesting human intervention that should have been documented. City officials said they cannot explain the absence of such records.

Go read the whole thing. Chicagoans tend to hate those red-light cams. If what the Tribune alleges is true, you can add one more horrible problem that Rahm Emanuel’s reelection campaign will have to deal with.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 9:56 am:

    Shortening yellow lights? It’s for the children! #SMH.

  2. - PublicServant - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 9:57 am:

    ===Chicagoans tend to hate those red-light cams.===

    The understatement of the year award winner!

  3. - John A Logan - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    The residents of Chicago should buy ladders and bolt cutters.

  4. - lake county democrat - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    Rich, any chance you could run the Sun-Times story on Judy Baar Topinka yesterday? I know she’s considered a saint by many (most?) of the commenters, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more rank example of Combine patronage at the expense of honest job applicants - given all the Hell Sheila Simon gets around here it’s worth reporting.

  5. - yo - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    The right candidate could beat Emanuel, I don’t care how much money the guy has. He is not liked by huge swaths of the city. This is the election to take him out too. Longer he stays more entrenched he becomes. Red light cameras are legalized thievery. pure and simple.

  6. - A guy... - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:08 am:

    They manipulated the cameras possibly (shorter yellows), manipulated the human element (changed policy in the human review of whether to cite or not). They can just as easily manipulate the adjudication process and wipe out all 13K tickets compliments of Rahm. That could turn a minus into a plus overnight. These things are terrible.

  7. - PMcP - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:12 am:

    To be honest, the existence of anomalies does not mean an issue exists , just that it should be investigated. For all we know, the two week period where ticket increases rose by the UC could coincide with the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park, which would make sense for the anomaly.

    Context please.

  8. - walker - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    Do the companies with this contract have a performance hurdle, like the Lottery folks do? or like the VA hospitals did? That can lead to unforeseen consequences.

  9. - siriusly - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    Sure it’s a few red light camera mistakes today, tomorrow it’s SkyNet.

  10. - William j Kelly - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    As if red light Rahm’s lie that these cameras are for public safety isn’t bad enough, Rahm’s double standard that the cameras don’t apply to him is enough to make Marie Antoinette look like a populist! A real city deserves a real mayor!

  11. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:18 am:

    LCD, that was some goofy analysis, but you are also wrong on the point. I ran that piece the other day.

  12. - wordslinger - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:30 am:

    These cameras are government at its most cynical, not just here, but all over the country.

    The politicians lie to your face that it’s all about public safety when everyone knows it’s about revenue.

    Then some clouted-up firm gets the payday, by hook or by crook (apparently by crook in Chicago if the federales are right).

    You want to fight the tickets? Good luck. Take time off work, travel, etc., lots of folks just give up and pay to avoid the nuisance.

    If Karen Lewis is serious, she’d call a presser to announce she’d rip them off the poles if elected. Let Rahm spin why that’s not a good idea.

  13. - Hotel Ibiza - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    And Rahm wants to run and manage a Chicago Casino. What a hoot!

  14. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:51 am:

    I’ve seen groups of organized protesters at the red light cameras in my area, specifically at Western and Addison, on a regular basis. It didn’t look like some astro-turf, rent-a-protester thing either. These were regular folks who are mad as heck. They do not like these things at all and every ticket issued adds to a growing number of ticked off voters.

  15. - PMcP - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    Assuming the cameras operate effectively, why aren’t we upset that people continue to run red lights?

  16. - ZC - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    Heh, I believe it. This story is right on time. I think am one of these thousands of Chicago drivers.

    I might know where that North Side camera is that went berserk on those “rolling right” citations. Good to know I’m not alone here.

  17. - OneMan - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 11:31 am:

    Assuming the cameras operate effectively, why aren’t we upset that people continue to run red lights?

    Well that first part of your statement is sort of the key. because the statistics imply they either were not working effectively before or there was a period when they were not working effectively. It would be interesting to see the raw data, because if the cameras did ‘go quiet’ before the spikes, that is interesting also if they went quiet after the spikes.

  18. - Chris - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 11:56 am:

    “Chicagoans tend to hate those red-light cams.”

    Chicagoan. Who has gotten (and paid) a couple of red light tickets (for turns w/ merely 90% stops) and I *still* love ‘em. Get the revenue from people who aren’t willing to be careful enough, not from everyone just for the act of living in Chicago. No brainer, to me.

    The “it’s for the children” veneer is irritating, sure, but so what?

  19. - Bill - Friday, Jul 18, 14 @ 3:31 pm:

    This news story just reaffirms what I have long felt, and that is that I have zero confidence in these red light cameras. Ever since they saturated Chicago with all of these red light cameras, I have been driving to Chicago less frequently because no matter how skilled and conscientious a driver I may be, I don’ trust these cameras. I don’t need the headache of dealing with bogus tickets issued from faulty red light cameras.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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