NMA E-Newsletter #269: Talk to the Hand

The City of Chicago stiff armed Jamal Norwood.

Norwood received a red-light camera ticket for making a right-turn-on-red at the intersection of Austin Avenue and Irving Park Road at 5:31 am Dec. 6. The city claimed he didn’t come to a complete stop. But this video, analyzed by NMA Illinois Activist and forensic video expert Barnet Fagel, clearly shows he did, if only briefly:


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Norwood contested the ticket by mail saying he did come to a complete stop and that right turns are permitted at this intersection between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am (which is correct). An administrative law judge ruled against Norwood and ordered him to either pay the $100 fine or appeal to the Cook County Circuit Court.

Instead, he contacted Jon Yates who writes the “What’s Your Problem?” column for The Chicago Tribune. We dare you to read Yates’ column here and try to keep your blood pressure from rising. (You may have to sign up for a free trial subscription, but it’s worth it.)

Yates took up Norwood’s cause and contacted Pat Jackowiak, chief administrative law judge for the city’s Department of Administrative Hearings. Upon review, Jackowiak first claimed Norwood was ticketed for not making a full stop. When Yates pointed out it appeared that Norwood did come to a complete stop, Jackowiak changed her tune and said he hadn’t stopped before the double yellow line as required by law.

But the law doesn’t require that. Illinois’ red-light camera law states that as long as there are no pedestrians or bicyclists present, a ticket cannot be issued “even if the motor vehicle stops at a point past a stop line or crosswalk where a driver is required to stop.”

Video clearly shows Norwood stopped, albeit beyond the stop line, and that there are no pedestrians or bicyclists present. Yates emailed Jackowiak again and included a copy of the relevant state statute. Cased dismissed, right?

Wrong. Jackowiak wouldn’t budge, even when faced with the requirements of the law and the visual evidence. This time, city spokesperson McCaffrey responded to Yates with the usual bureaucratic mush:

“The administrative law judge upheld the red light violation after viewing the video and determining that the motorist did not come to a complete stop before entering the intersection, and not for making a right turn on red,” McCaffrey wrote. “The administrative law judges at the Department of Administrative Hearings and all other officials reviewing red light violations follow the requirements of the state law before issuing or upholding red light violations.” McCaffrey said each red light camera citation is reviewed by two people before it is sent out. In Norwood’s case, it was also reviewed a third time, by the administrative law judge.

We’re stunned by the indifference. Indifference to the evidence, indifference to the law, indifference to discretion and good judgment, indifference to what is fair and reasonable. Perhaps if we were to get a glimpse of Jackowiak’s job description, we’d find a primary responsibility to help fill the city’s coffers rather than to serve the greater good of the people.

But this is Chicago, where indifference has allowed the country’s largest red-light camera program to thrive. Consider the findings of a City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO) audit released last year:

  • First, CDOT was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety. Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the City’s rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location.
  • Second, our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the RLC program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public. Specifically, we found a lack of basic recordkeeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.   

The audit also pointed out that the city had paid then vendor Redflex more than $100 million over the life of the program, yet it couldn’t document costs associated with the purchase, maintenance, repair or miscellaneous fees for any camera location or specific camera. Redflex is now the subject of a 14-state federal bribery probe.

It’s also worth noting that Chicago’s red-light cameras have collected nearly $500 million in revenue since they went live in 2003.

Defeated by indifference, Norwood paid the $100 fine.

Perhaps that stiff arm is actually an outstretched hand.

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Barnet Fagel who forwarded his video analysis to Yates. Even though Norwood has paid the fine, perhaps the Tribune will see fit to run a follow-up piece highlighting Barnet’s work. Maybe the court of public opinion will be kinder than the City of Chicago.

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