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tv   Ali Velshi on Target  Al Jazeera  February 24, 2016 6:30am-7:01am EST

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>> another forecast of a long dry spell for oil just a reminder you can keep up to date with all the latest news on the website. you'll find it all at aljazeera.com. aljazeera.com. >> i'm ali velshi, on target tonight - hitting the brakes. red light cameras setting up to make streets safer, also making money for cities. quick cash that is hard to stop in more ways than one. i'm talking tonight 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
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budget faced by many of those citieses. tonight a third topic covered last november, bringing the two together in chicago and other cities. red light cameras, you know what i'm talking about, cameras taking photos of those winning through red lights. that can cost drivers $50 to $100. a driver's desire to avoid the tickets is a key reason that advocates quay the camera reduces crashes. the insurance institute for highway safety shows a 13 to 29% reduction in injury related crashes at intersections that have red light cameras. the insurance institution is funded by insurance companies and insurers can raise premiums on drivers after being caught running a red light.
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there's a conflict of interest there. many cameras are not marked, meaning drivers don't know they are there. it's part of a debate over whether cities are using the cameras more to boost revenue than to promote traffic safety. public outcry over the camera is reason why using them is a decline. it peaked from 512 to 439 cities. cameras are in use in 34 states, california, new york, texas and illinois. illinois, as you may know is in the middle of a huge budget impasse. last year the city of chicago passed a property tax increase to plug a 745 million hall. hayer rahm emanuel can hardly
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afford to give them up. last week a city would not dismiss a lawsuit that sought hundreds of millions in refunds. it's part of a controversy sparked by red light cameras, it involved shortened yellow lights. outright civic corruption. >> captured on camera, vehicles running red lights with disasous routes. in the next decade accidents like these killed 9,000. engineers grappled with ways to make interceptions safer. and a controversial method is to use red light cameras. working. >> that's from a vehicle of red flex traffic systems, a leading manufacturer of red light cameras.
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studies show that they reduce high speed crashes and critics point to studies conducted by states and the highway, concluding that red light cameras almost always lead to a steep increase in red light collisions. when you throe a red-light camera at an intersection, it creates a problem, because you have all of these things going on in the driver's mind, one is wow, if i don't stop here, and i go through on a short yellow, at the very end i'll get nailed. what happens was people slammed on the breaks, and there's a 22% crease in accidents at the intersections that have red light cameras. >> david tied well is a reporter for the chicago tribune. he has been following the troubled history of the red
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light camera programme. since 2003, the city's nearly 400 cameras brought in 500 million in traffic fines. needs. >> the city of chicago bond rating is darn near junk rating. this city is in enormous financial crisis. ending the red light camera programme only creates problems from the government, and the city of chicago, in terms of making up shortfall in the amount of money they have to run the city. >> and kidwell's investigation exposed other issues at intersections in chicago with red light cameras. one of the biggest problems is that the yellow lights are too short. federal guidelines say yellow lights should last 3.2 seconds. the city of chicago's department of transportation says the yellow lights are set at 3 seconds.
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kidwell uncovered evidence that many of the red light camera intersections had so-called yellow light intervals of less than 3 seconds, meaning more red light violations and millions more in revenue for the city. >> there's probably between half a million and a million discrete vehicle owners receiving tickets in chicago. which is staggering when you consider the population of the city is 2.8 million. >> patrick's law firm is leading a lawsuit against the city of chicago on behalf of motor tickets. >> the red light programs are a result of an unholery alliance between -- unholy alliance between for-profit companies and cash-strapped municipalities and provide the worse to both. >> terry is one of the clients. thief.
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>> it's doing nothing but stealing people's money. >> cater received a $100 citation after being captured going through an intersection whose yellow light interval was below 3 seconds. that's what barnett's research shows. he's known to thousands as the red light guy. using a video camera and software, bagel is able to capture the duration of the yellow-light interval. evidence which could get a fair hearing in court. >> the city is on the edge. they claim they are adhering to the law, which they are not. >> they run a test on the intersection. the red light camera ranks as a big money maker in chicago. routinely raking in more than 1.6 million per year. today bagel's camera proves that the yellow light lasts 2.873 seconds.
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>> i have come away with a distinct impression that red-light camera revenue - they are hooked on it. they'll go down fighting before giving up the revenue. >> red light cameras are the main topic of conversation here in herb harrington's barber shop on the west side. >> we should not squeeze the people on the bottom of the totem pole. >> lasham is a 5-member of the house of representatives. he's been coming since he was a kid. he proposed legislation to freeze the use of red light cameras in chicago. >> let's talk about the fire. $100 for running a red light. just paid $100. >> thing about the tickets, they could ruin someone's life and livelihood. you get two tickets. you lose a job. lose a car. >> mess up your credit.
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consequences. >> and red light cameras continue to be a hot topic of conversation. 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. in the city of chicago. red light cameras generate 600,000 tickets a year. >> kidwell says chicago became the nation of red light cameras through a mix of politics. it started with a red flex memo, leaked to kidwell. >> it laid out the scheme, and it essentially said that this city employee by the name of john bills had received 1500 per camera, for every camera. that he over saw the installation of. and they are worth 384 of them at that time.
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>> then another former employee named michael schmidt approached, and told him about a meeting he attended in 2003. with red flex c.e.o. finley and john bills. >> there was a quintessential meeting. where john had a meeting with karen finley, and several top executives to coach them on how to behave at the next phase, and an important meeting at city hall. >> this is the first camera. >> he looked at me and said i'm going to talk to you like you don't know you. i looked at my boss and she held a finger up like this. and looked at me and put it down and shook her head a little bit. >> the fix was in. red flex was awarded a contract
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worth $123 million over the next nine years to install all of chicago's 384 red light cameras. the series of articles, which started in 2012 drew the attention of federal prosecutors, which lead to a remarkable turn of event. in may 2014, john bills was indicted on a federal bribery charge. as assistant transportation commission, bills received as much as 2 million in bribes. red flex, whose headquarters is in phoenix arsenal is also under fire. former red flex c.e.o. has pleaded guilty to a federal charge that she conspired to bribe john bills. a few months earlier finley pleaded guilty to a federal charge that she bribed officials in ohio. and there's signs that chicago may finally start to hit the
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program. >> in august 30th, 2015, the city filed a $300 million lawsuit, charging the city's red light programme, was built on red flex's bribery of john bills. bills attorney said his client never had the power or authority to do what the federal prosecutors allege, and that john bills did his job in the best interests of chicago, not himself. bill's trial begins in january, and if convicted faces up to 10 years in prison. the problems are far from over. an give of red flex, now working with prosecutors, ledges that red flex executives bribed officials in 13 other states. for its part, red flex says the company has new leadership, systems and policies and is committed to transparency and
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honesty in business practices. despite the controversy kidwell says chicago won't end the red light camera programme soon. >> they have 300 cameras out there, it fills a huge budget hole for the city of chicago. >> meanwhile the folks at herb harrington's barber shop have advice for chicago's officials. >> they want cameras up. >> cameras have been placed for money and not safety. updating money. >> they don't give $0.02 about your safety. the crime rate here is terrible. they care about your safety when really. >> in january, that chicago city official accused of taking bribes was convicted on 20 counts of bribery, fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. john bills will be sentenced in
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may and faces decades in prison. i want to tell you the chicago department of transportation declined to answer any of al jazeera's questions about the red light cameras or the lawsuit against red flex traffic systems, the red light camera company at the end of the story. with all the evidence you'd think someone would have put is stop to the red light camera programme. coming up i put that to one of charge.
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we are looking tonight at chicago's troubled red light camera programme. critic say it raised as much as
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$500 million by essentially fleecing drivers. chicago's programme led to a bribery and corruption scandal involving the company that sold the city the cameras, in november, when the story first aired, i spoke with gabe clean. he was the commissioner from 2011 to 2013. i asked him about john bills, the city official convicted of accepting bribes, who was clyne's then assistant commissioner. i asked clean why he didn't put a halt to the red light camera programme, given the problem surrounding it. >> i'm here to talk about enforcement. mr bills actually retired the week that i got there. minor actions were limited. i spent most of my time working on a speed camera programme. the red light programme was in place for about 10 years before i got there. it was successful in reducing
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crashes, and i understand the controversy - obviously there are bad actors in the private and public sector. that's unfortunate. it seems to happen even more in chicago. but the bottom line is the cameras work, reducing face atties and crashes. rear end crashes do not generally result in fatalties. it's a fact. so, you know i say they work. i'd like to see more across the country. . >> according to several sources, while you were the commissioner, the majority of intersections with red light cameras had yellow light timings of under 3 seconds, below the federal, state and your own city's dit guidelines, what do you know about that? >> i honestly don't know anything about that. i heard something about it after a left. you know, i was the commissioner of the department.
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i didn't really handle the, you know, timing on the signals day to day, but there are federal standard that all adhere to. my guess is if the standard was miss the on some lights, it wasn't on purpose. you know, chicago has got an old system of electro mechanical as well as some upgraded digital signal systems. i doubt, if it's up by a tenth design. >> i guess the problem is chicago, like a lot of cities, and you worked in other major cities and wrote a book about things that are more effective in cities, something that old big cities have, chicago is experiencing a lot of it, is a budget gap of more than $700 million, since it began in 2003. this red-light camera programme
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brought in more than $500 million in fines. it's hard - the guy in the story said it's like crack. it's hard to get rid of it. >> well look, everybody's got an opinion on this. i will - i will tell you that yes, you know, there are revenues from it. people make a choice every day. do they want to speed, run red lights, do they want to put other people in danger. the fact is we lose 32,000 a year in the united states to car crashes. it's the number one killer of teenagers worldwide, $1.2 million. it's unfortunate we have these controversies, we have a health epidemic on the seats. it's not wars, it's not aid, it's crashes that are killing more people than anyone else. we have to deal with it. the idea if you run a red light or speed you
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shouldn't have consequences. if you hit at 45 hours or more, you're going to die. >> that was gabe clyne. the former commissioner of transportation. fair or not. red light cameras cost money. coming up. the science that shows
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such confer talking about a controversial red-light camera programme in chicago, netting the city $500 million.
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it's revenue from cameras that trap drivers are lights flicking too fast from yellow to red. when we aired the story in november, i spoke with angie schmidt. an editor at street blog u.s.a. which follows news. angie told me it leads to an increase in rear light accidents. it reduces tee bone. >> if you look at loss of lies injuries, those t-bone, not the rear end fender benders, and the vast majority of research says he is are effective in preventing those incidents. >> what you heard in the story was criticism from people in chicago, coming off of a parking meter scandal. that it seems the city is
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desperate for revenue they'll outsource. when new jersey outsourced the red light camera, it was called credit negative. the heart of the issue is not the stuff you study, which is whether or not the red light camera is safer, but the way chicago handled this. >> i agree. there has been problems in chicago and other communities. they are very - a lot of people feel passionate about this issue. one thing they should do. near where i live, they use speed cameras, but only in school zones, and they are used for child safety programs. that's a practice, keep the
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money dedicated to programs aimed at safety, forest. the issue in chicago is as much political as safety. in the report some citiers accused of tweaking the length of time a yellow light is on, to fall below 3 seconds, which is the federally recommended minimum. and studies show that decreasing the duration of the yellow light is a matter as well. i would tell you if that's the case, if i go through and proceed through a yellow light and it turns red, i slam the brakes on. what do you know about timing of yellow lights? >> it sounds like there was a problem with that in chicago. these are new technologies, so the regulations maybe have not caught up with technology. i think the problems should be addressed, and there should be a protection for motorists, so the technology, the way you
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describe. however, i don't think those problems are a good reason to throw out use of this technology. a study from the insurance institute for highway safety found if they were implemented in cities with a population of 200,000, it could save 859 lives a year. >> i have a different setting in opinion. the highway safety funded by the insurance companies. what is their dog in the hunt. what do they want. do they want traffic tickets, lights that stop people, greater revenue or prevent crashes. i'm trying to figure out the motivation, there are reports that say different things? >> i think they reduce motor evening or injury or death.
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that's the bigger issue. i think they are pretty impartial sauce. i trust them. you could speculate. >> one of the comments you heard that we ran, were guys sitting around the barber shop saying if you don't make much money, and it sends to be - people grid size traffic dicts in general. this came out -- traffic tickets in general. this came out a lose, those disproportionately affecting the poor. you are impartial on this, this is your gig. you report on these things, what have you made of the arguments in the past? >> well, i had a little bit of trouble with the argument. first of all, the poorest people in the city are not driving, they rely on transit. and folks who are low income they suffer a lot if a member of
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the family is injured or killed. there are ways to manage the economic harm from the tickets. that can be a blow to finances in the short term. we are talking about a relatively small sign. one thing that has been proposed in chicago, rahm emanuel proposed, was allowing people, the first time they were caught, they can attend a class. i think that's a reasonable proposal. i wondered what it would be from the gentlemen that complain about the equity issue. >> that's the show, thank you for joining us. the news america. >> we're here to fully get into the nuances of everything that's going on, not just in this country, but around the world. getting the news from the people who are affected. >> people need to demand reform... >> ali velshi on target.
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