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tv   Ali Velshi on Target  Al Jazeera  March 9, 2016 9:00pm-9:31pm EST

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next time you hear "in my life" take note of the electric pea an owe. that's george martin. paul beban, al jazeera, new york. >> and that's our broadcast. thank for watching. i'm john siegenthaler. >> >> i'm ali velshi. you "on target" tonight. hitting the brakes. red light cameras set up to make intersections safer, also make a ton of revenue for american cities. it is a combination of quick yellow lights and fast money that make it hard to stop in more ways than one. i'm talking flit about two subjects that don't usually end up in the same conversation. one is the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents in american cities and the other is the large budget
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shortfall faced by many of those cities. tonight i am drawing your attention oa controversial third topic that we first covered last november, that brings those two together in chicago and in other cities. red light cameras. you know what i'm talking about, cameras that take photos of drivers who run through red lights. cameras that result in tickets that can cost drivers between 50 and nearly $500. a driver's desire to avoid those tickets is a key reason that advocates say the cameras reduce crashes. the insurance institute for highway safety says independent research shows a 13 o29% reduction in injury related crashes at intersections that have red light cameras. now the snoourns institute is funded by auto insurance companies and in california and nevada insurers can raise premiums on drivers who have red
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light tickets so there is a conflict of interest there possibly. many drivers don't know they're there and that is a argument that they are a dealternate to running red lights. that is a bigger debate if cities are using the red lights more to boost revenue than to promote traffic safety. the number of communities using them has declined in a peak of 533 in 2012 to 439 cities now. today, cam ration are in use in 23 states including california, new york, texas, and illinois. illinois as you may know, is in the middle of a huge budget impasse and last year, the city of chicago passed a massive property tax increase to plug a $745 million hole. so mayor rahm emanuel can hardly afford to give up the revenue that's generated by red light cameras but last week, a judge
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ruled against the city's request to dismiss a lawsuit that is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds in red light camera tickets. the suit is just part of a huge controversy sparked by red light cameras in chicago. it's a story involving shortened yellow lights, a spike in rear end collisions and outright civic corruption. captured on camera. vehicles running red lights with disastrous results. in the last decade, accidents like these have killed nearly 9,000 people in the united states. engineers have grappled with ways to make intersections safer. and one of the most controversial methods is to use red light cameras. >> in communities across new jersey, traffic safety cameras are working to make people safe on our roads. >> that's a video from red flex traffic systems one of the main
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manufacturers of red light cameras. studies show that red light cameras reduce high speed t bone crashes. federal highway administration concludes that red light cameras almost always lead to a steep increase in rear end collisions. >> when you throw a red lie camera up at an intersection it creates a psychological problem because you've got all of these things going on in the driver's mind and one of them is wow, if i don't stop here and i go through on a short yellow at the very end i'm going to get nailed. so what happened was, people started slamming on the brakes. and lo and behold, there's a 22% increase in rear end accidents at these intersections that have red light cameras. >> david kidwell is an investigative reporter for chicago tribune.
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he's been following troubled history of chicago's red light camera program. since 2003, the at this time's nearly 400 red light cameras have brought in $500 million in traffic fines, money the city desperately needs. >> the city of chicago's bond rating is darn near junk rating right now. this city is in an enormous financial crisis. ending the red light camera program only creates more problems for the government in the city of chicago in terms of making up very, very critical shortfall in the amount of money they have to run the city. >> and kidwell's investigation also exposed other issues at intersections in chicago with red light cameras. one of the biggest problems is that the yellow light intervals are too short. federal guidelines say yellow lights should last at least 3.2 seconds. the city of chicago's department of transportation says its yellow lights are set at 3
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seconds. but kidwell uncovered evidence that many of the red light camera intersections had so-called yellow light intervals of less than three seconds. that means more red light violations and millions more in revenue for the city. >> there are probably somewhere between a half million and a million discrete vehicle owners who have received red light camera tickets in chicago which is pretty staggering, when you consider that the population of the city is only 2.8 million. >> leading a $500 million class action lawsuit against the city of chicago on behalf of motor it's who receive red light camera tickets. >> the red light camera programs are really a result of an unholy alliance of red flex and cash strapped municipalities and they combine the worst of both. >> terry is one of keating's
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clients. >> it is a thief. it is doing nothing but stealing people's money. >> she recently received a $100 citation, after being captured on a camera going through an intersection whose yellow light interval was less than three seconds. red light doctor, using a video camera and special software, he's able to capture the exact red light interval. evidence that can help get a fair hearing in court. >> the city is right at the edge, they claim they are adhering with the law which they are not. >> he runs a test on this intersection. its red light camera ranks as one of the biggest money makeers in chicago. routinely raking in more than $16 million per year. today, the camera proves this
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athis be chicago yellow light lasts just 2.873 seconds. >> this is municipal crack cocaine. they are looked an it. they will go down fighting before they give up the revenue from the cameras. >> red light cameras are also the main topic of conversation in herb' herb's barber shop on e west side. ford is a five term democratic congressman, he recently proposed legislation to freeze the use of red light cameras in chicago. >> let's talk about the fine. $100 for running a red light. i mean just pay the $100. >> think about the red light tickets. they could ruin somebody's whole life and livelihood. let's say you make $10 or $15. you get a boot, you lose your
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car. >> mess up your credit. yeah, there are a lot of unintended consequences. >> over a $100 ticket. >> and red light cameras continue to be a topic of conversation here in chicago. that's because by some estimates 75% of intersections with red light cameras like this one behind me have yellow lights that are shorter than three seconds. remember in the city of chicago red light cameras generate about 600,000 tickets a year. kidwell says chicago became the nation's capital of red light cameras through a mix of corruption and back room politics chicago-style. it all started with an internal red flex memo which an internal person linked to kidwell. >> it essentially said this city employees by the name john bills had received $1500 per camera for every camera that he oversaw the installation of and there
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were 384 of them at that time. >> then another former red flex employee named michael schmidt approached kidwell. schmidt told him about a meeting he attended. >> there was a quintessential meeting at the top of the john hancock center where bills had a meeting with karen finnley and her top executives. >> this is schmidt's first time on camera describing what bills said to him. >> he talked to me directly, saying i will talk to you like i don't know you. karen finley held up one finger and put it down and shook her head, just a little bit. >> critics say at this point the
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fix was in. red flex was awarded a contract worth $120 million over the next nine years to install all of chicago's 384 red light cameras. but kidwell's series of articles which started in 2012 drew the attention of federal prosecutors which led to a remarkable turn of events. in may 2014, john bills was indicted on a federal bribery charge. prosecutors say as assistant transportation commissioner, bills received as much as $2 million in bribes from red flex. red flex was north american's headquarters is here in phoenix, arizona has also come under fire. on august 20th of this year former red flex cry karen finley pled guilty of a charge that she conspired to bribe john bills, also bribed officials in chicago.
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there are signs that chicago might finally be starting to hit the brakes on its red light camera program. in august 2013 the city filed a $300 million lawsuit against red flex, charging it was built on red flex's bribery of john bills. never had the power or authority to do what federal prosecutors allege and bills did what was in the best interests of chicago not himself. he faces up to ten years in prison. but red flex's problems are far from over. a fired form he executive of that company now working with federal prosecutors allegation in another lawsuit that red flex executives bribed officials in at least 13 other states. for its part, red flex says the company has new leadership, new systems and new policies and is
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committed to transparency and honesty in our business practices. but despite the controversy and federal indictments, kidwell says chicago probably won't end its red light program any time soon. >> they've still got 300 cameras out there, still the largest in the country and still fills a very, very huge budget hole for the city of chicago. >> meanwhile, the folks at herb harrington's barber shop have a lot to say. >> if you have cameras up, why not crime stopping cameras? >> the crime rate here is terrible but they fear about your safety when it comes to driving? really? >> in january that chicago city official accused of taking bribes was convicted on 20 counts of bribery, fraud,
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conspiracy and tax evasion. john bills will be sentenced in may and faces decades in prison. i also want to tell you that the chicago department of transportation declined to answerfully of al jazeera's questions about the city's red light cameras or its lawsuit against red flex traffic systems, the red light camera company at the center of the story. with all the evidence out there you think someone would have put a stop to chicago's troubled red light camera program. coming up, i'll put that to one of the men who used to be in charge. charge. >> our american story is written everyday. it's not always pretty, but it's real... and we show you like no-one else can. this is our american story. this is america tonight.
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we are looking tonight at >> we're looking tonight at chicago's troubled red light camera program. citiics say it's raised as much as $500 million by essentially fleecing drivers. led to a bribery and corruption scandal strofg company that sold the -- involving the company that sold the city the cameras. dave kline was the city's commissioner from 2011 o2013. to twean. 2013. i asked him about john bills, i asked kline why he didn't bring a halt to the red light camera system. >> i'll tell you mr. bills actually retired the week that i got there.
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so my interactions with him were very limited. and i spent most of my time actually work on a speed camera program. the red light camera program was in place for about ten years before i got there. it was very successful in reducing crashes. and i understand that there's controversy, obviously there are bad actors in the private sector and public sector and that's very unfortunate. it seems to happen even more in chicago.but the bottom line is, the cameras do work. they reduce fatalities and crashes and even an increase in rear end crashes, you know, rear end crashes do not generally result in fatalities. it is a fact. so i say they work. and i'd like to see more of them across the country like we have here in washington, d.c. >> well, according to several sources while you were the commissioner the majority of intersection with red light
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cameras had yellow light timings of under three seconds. that is of course below the federal state and your own d.o.t.'s guidelines. what do you know about that? >> i honestly don't know anything about that. i heard something about it after i left. you know, i was the commissioner of the department. i didn't really handle the timing on the signals day-to-day. but there are federal standards that all d.o.t.s adhere to. my guess is, if the standard was missed on some lights, it wasn't on purpose. you know, chicago's got an old system of electromechanical as well as some other upgraded digital signal systems so i doubt if it's off by 1/10 of 1 second that was by design. >> in chicago, you would worked in other major cities and you have written a book of things
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that could be more effective in cities. one thing that big cities have is financial stress. chicago is experiencing it, right now, there is a budget gap of $700 million. since it began in 2003, this red light camera program has brought in more than $500 million in fines. it becomes hard to -- the guy in the story says it's like crack. it just becomes hard to get rid of it. >> well look. everybody's got an opinion on this. i mean i will tell you that yes, you know, there are revenues from it. but people make a choice every day, do they want to speed? do they want to run red lights? do they want to put other people in danger? and the fact is we lose 32,000 people a year in the united states to car crashes, the number 1 killer of teenager teenagers,ists unfortunate we have these controversies but the
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bottom line is we have a health epidemic on our streets, it is not wars, not aids. it is car crashes. we've got to deal with it. the idea that if you run a red light or you should speed, you should have no consequences when the consequence you hit somebody, are death. 90% of the people who are hit at 40 miles per hour are going to die. we can't allow that on the streets anymore. >> that is gabe kline, the form he are commissioner of chicago's streets. coming up, what saves people's lives.
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al jazeera america. >> pushing the boundaries of science. >> we are on the tipping point. >> we can save species. >> it's the biggest question out there. >> it's a revolutionary approach. >> we are pushing the boundaries. >> techknow is going to blow your mind. >> our experts go inside the
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innovations, impacting you. >> this is the first time anybody's done this. >> i really feel my life changing. >> techknow, where technology meets humanity. only on al jazeera america. such confer talking about a >> we're talking tonight about a controversial red light camera program in chicago which has netted the city $500 million. critics say chicago is addicted to the revenue from cameras that switch lights too rapidly from yellow to red, which cause rear end collisions. i spoke with angie schmidt, angie told me that while red light cameras may lead to an increase in rear end accidents they actually reduce the number of more serious t bone collisions. >> if you look at the serious
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collisions that lead to loss of life and serious injuries, those are red light running collisions, t bone type high speed collections not those rear end fender benders, and scholars say this is effective in preventing these types of incidents. >> what you heard, chicago is just coming off of this parking meter scandal if you will where it seems the city is so desperate for revenue that it will outsource the issue to people. moody's called credit negative for local treasuries. the heart of issue is not necessarily the stuff you study which is whether or not the red light camera is safer for the intersection but the ham-fisted way in which chicago has once again handled this. >> i agree. it does seem there has been some huge problems in chicago and there have been problems in other communities as well. one thing we recommend,
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communities need to be careful how they roll these out. because they are very -- a lot of people feel very fashion at y about this, they shouldn't be relying on the revenue the way chicago did. the city of akron they use speeding cameras but only in school zones and all the money is used for child safety programs. that is a good practice for cities, keep the money on programs that are aimed at safety for example pep. >> this issue is almost as much political as it is related to safety. however in this report we also showed you that some cities are accused of tweaking the length of time a yellow light is on to fall below three seconds which is the federally recommended minimum. and studies do show that decreasing the duration of the yellow light increases accidents as well. instinctively i would tell you
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if that's the case if i'm going through and i'm going to proceed through a yellow light and all of a sudden it turns red i'm going to slam the brakes on. what do you know about timing of yellow lights? >> yeah, it does seem there was a problem with that in chicago and this should be regulated. these are new technologies, i think the regulations haven't caught up with the technology and i think those kinds of problems should be addressed and there should be protections for motorists so the technology isn't taken advantage of the way you described. however i don't thy those problems are a good reason -- think those problems are a good reason to throw out the technology altogether because it could be a important lifesaving tool. if they were implemented in all cities in the u.s. with a population over 200,000 it could save 859 lives a year. >> i got a different study from the federal highway manages, i guess i want to get your opinion on this.
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-- highway administration, what is their dog in the hunt, do they want traffic tickets, lights that stop tickets going through lights, do they want to prevent crashes? i'm trying to figure out the motivation of all involved because there are reports that show different things. >> i think they have a clear interest in reducing motor vehicle accidents and especially serious ones that result in competitivexpensive injuries or. i really trust them but you could speculate. >> one of the comments you heard in the story we just ran were these guys sitting around the barber shoptalking about you know what if you don't make much money and then you get a boot on your car and you have to pay for this, it tends to be -- there are people who criticize traffic tickets in general and this came out a lot in ferguson, missouri, traffic tickets in general as being a regressive tax that
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disproportionately affects the poor. you're impartial on this, this is your gig, you report on these things. what have you made of these arguments in the past? >> well, i have a little trouble with that argument. first of all, the poorest people in our cities aren't driving. they are relying on transit. folks who are low income they suffer a lot when they are victims of traffic accidents. if they're injured or if one of their family members are killed, that exerts a staggering cost on them. so i think that there are ways to manage sort of the economic harm from these tickets. they can be a blow to people's finances obviously in the short term but we're talking about a relatively small fine. and one thing that's been proposed in chicago, i think rahm emanuel actually proposed, was allowing people the first time they are caught running a red light they can attend a class instead of pay the $100 fine. i think that's a reasonable
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proposal and i wonder what the reaction would be from these gentlemen who claim the equity issue you describe. >> that's our program. the news continues on al jazeera america. >> ♪ ♪ >> thanks for joining us on "america tonight." i'm joie chen. we mark this week's international women's day by looking at the achievements of women. women who face their own adversity and succeed in spite of it. case in point. one of our

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