January 4, 2008

Five On Your Side Investigative Journalist Duane Pohlman Showing Traffic Camera's Illegal

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Video: Pohlman Confronts Mayor | Video: Motorists' Challenge | Images: Red-Light Camera Mistakes | Part 1


Red-light cameras installed at Cleveland intersections have become controversial. 5 On Your Side chief investigator Duane Pohlman said flashes are oftentimes the only clue the cameras caught cars speeding or running red lights. Confirmation arrives later as a ticket in the mail, with a $100 fine. The cameras are triggering key questions before Ohio's highest court. "We are starting to lose our freedom," one motorist said. At the very least, motorists said these devices are just plain unfair. "I think we should get rid of them," another motorist said. For the past six months, 5 On Your Side has been investigating the red-light cameras and found, from the sophisticated electronics to the system that supports it, the cameras not only can make mistakes -- they do, Pohlman said. NewsChannel5 spoke with Dave Hatala, a 5 On Your Side videographer. "Something's wrong with the whole system," Hatala said. He got a ticket in the mail saying he was speeding on Chester Avenue at East 71st Street. He was cited for going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone. The only problem is that Hatala insisted he never went that fast "This was wrong, and I'm willing to fight that," he said. Along with his ticket, Hatala got pictures showing his van and another car that appeared to be going faster. "I immediately could see they ticketed the wrong lane," Hatala said. "A car going faster than me that you can clearly see is overtaking me." Could the ticket be a mistake? To get answers, Pohlman went to Chris Butler, a math professor at Case Western University. "If you know the distance and you know the time you can calculate the speed," Butler said. Hatala brought the measuring device. Butler measured the location using markers from the pictures. He determined Hatala's real rate of speed. "Dave Hatala was traveling 40.5 mph," Butler said.He also found the real speed for that other car, too -- 48 mph. Hatala brought the findings to court to challenge his ticket. "Becomes pretty clear that it wasn't your vehicle that was speeding," the judge said. He didn't have to argue much. Pohlman said the court admitted the ticket was issued to the wrong car, in the wrong lane. "So based upon the testimony provided we are going to find you not liable for this violation," the judge said. Pohlman reported a different problem at that same location on Chester Avenue at East 71st Street. Bill and Sue Faber of Massillon said they haven't been in Cleveland for six months, but the city sent them a ticket. "No way we could be in Cleveland," Faber said. "Do you have witnesses for that?" Pohlman asked. "Yes, we do," Faber said. Yet Cleveland sent the ticket showing a car speeding, but the plate belongs to the Faber's truck. Pohlman said you can't read the license in the picture at all. He said it appears Cleveland guessed and sent the ticket anyway. "I always thought we were always innocent until proven guilty and now I find it's guilty until I can prove I'm innocent," Faber said. After NewsChannel5 got involved, the city backed off, writing a letter informing the Fabers that the city made a mistake."I thought it was ridiculous," Faber said. NewsChannel5 has received hundreds of e-mails about the red-light cameras and Pohlman continues his investigation at 11 p.m.

5,200 Motorists Fight Tickets From Red-Light Cameras

More than 5,000 people have contested tickets they got from Cleveland's red-light cameras. Chief Investigator Duane Pohlman took his questions and concerns about the cameras accuracy to Cleveland's mayor. Jackson gives a green light to the red-light cameras. Pohlman: "Do you support the red light program?"
Mayor Frank Jackson:
"Yes."
Pohlman:
"Why?"
Jackson:
"Because it is the law." Pohlman found many people who don't agree with the mayor. "I think we should get rid of them," one motorist said. Tickets from the red-light cameras $100 a piece. Last year, the city of Cleveland issued nearly 60,000 tickets raising $5.8 million in revenue. Jackson said the program is all about safety.
Pohlman:
"How can you support a program and say it's about safety?"
Jackson:
"Again, I am saying it is about safety and as a result of the program it produces revenue at the same time." Jim Coleman and his wife, Brianne, owed the city of Cleveland $1,000 for 10 tickets issued in less than a month.

Briannne admits she did speed, and this camera captured her again and again and again on Prospect Avenue.
Brianne: "I didn't know it was 25 mph until I got a ticket."
Pohlman:
"When did you figure it out?"
Brianne:
"Four weeks after I got the first letter." She said she never got a warning, only ticket after ticket after ticket. "One ticket it would have been over. If a cop would have stopped me," Brianne said. "I would like to take my baseball bat to it. 5 On Your Side already proved the cameras aren't perfect, Pohlman said.

Wrong Vehicle

Bill and Sue Faber, of Massillon, said they haven't been in Cleveland for six months, but the city sent them a ticket. "No way we could be in Cleveland," Faber said. "Do you have witnesses for that?" Pohlman asked. "Yes, we do," Faber said. Yet Cleveland sent the ticket showing a car speeding, but the plate belongs to the Faber's truck. Pohlman said you can't read the license in the picture at all. He said it appears Cleveland guessed and sent the ticket anyway. "I always thought we were always innocent until proven guilty and now I find it's guilty until I can prove I'm innocent," Faber said. After NewsChannel5 got involved, the city backed off, writing a letter informing the Fabers that the city made a mistake.

Other Car Speeding

And Pohlman proved it with Mr. Math, Case Western University math professor Chris Butler. "If you know the distance and you know the time you can calculate the speed," Butler said. The city claimed 5 On Your Side videographer Dave Hatala was speeding and gave him a ticket. However, Butler proved the city made a mistake -- it was really another car that was speeding. "Given what we measured, it looks more reasonable that the dark car was going 48 mph, not the white van," Butler said. Hatala won his case in court. "Becomes pretty clear that it wasn't your vehicle that was speeding," the judge said.

Court Records

5 On Your Side asked for public records dealing with red-light cameras. After battling for six months, the city delivered very few documents, Pohlman said. What the lawyers were able to get were red-light records of all court hearings. Pohlman said they showed some surprising numbers. In 2006, there were 5,200 court hearings where people, like Hatala, contested tickets from the red-light cameras. Records showed that in one out of every four of cases there were enough problems with the cameras to toss out the ticket or reduce the fine.
Pohlman:
"How can you in good conscience allow a ticket of $100 to just go out when you know you have problems with the red lights?"
Jackson:
"How can I in good conscience allow a person to violate the law?" Jackson is digging his heals in about the cameras, Pohlman said.
Pohlman:
"But the cameras don't always show a violation of the law."
Jackson:
"Then they don't have to pay."
Pohlman:
"But they have to come down to court."
Jackson: "They don't have to pay. It's a process." Jackson, like other city leaders, continues giving the green light to the red-light cameras.
Jackson:
"Why don't you just ask the real question you really want to and ask if we will get rid of the red-light cameras and the speed cameras?"
Pohlman: "Well, let's ask it. Would you?"
Jackson:
"No. I won't."

5 On Your Side Unable To Get Red-Light Ticket Records


People are seeing red when it comes to Cleveland's traffic cameras.
Sue Faber:
"I always thought we were always innocent until proven guilty."
Chief Investigator Duane Pohlman: The Fabers in Massillon got a ticket even though they weren't even in Cleveland.
Faber:
"Now, I find it's guilty until I can prove I'm innocent."

Pohlman: On the photo, you can't even see the plate clearly, but that didn't stop the city from sending a ticket to the Fabers truck.Clearly it is a car in the photo and the Fabers have a pickup.
Pohlman:
Chris Butler of Case Western Reserve University said that if you know the distance and you know the time, you can calculate the speed.The professor proved our own 5 On Your Side videographer Dave Hatala was not speeding.
Butler: "Given what we measured, it looks more reasonable that the dark car was going 48 miles per hour not the white van."Normally, this would be the part where I would tell you how many cases have been bungled, and I would point you to documents that prove that.
Pohlman:
5 On Your Side requested the records six months ago, during the hot days of August, and we still don't have them.We sent a flurry of public records requests to City Hall in August, asking for access to every ticket issued in 2006 at red-light cameras.5 On Your side made endless calls and sent dozens of e-mails.
Pohlman:
This is the longest I've waited for public records -- ever.Well, what's expected usually, the law says that within five business days you have to provide either the documents or some kid of responseIn December, E.W. Scripps attorney Dave Giles, agreed to get some of the records -- even though the city insisted we pay more than $900.In an e-mail that quickly followed, Giles asked that information to be placed on disc to avoid such a huge charge.We still don't have the records.It has dragged out for a significant amount of time for fairly basic information.Now, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who defends the red-light camera program, blames our attorney for the delays.
Jackson: "Your attorney agreed that records that was available were acceptable to him."
Pohlman:
But even if we paid, which we won't, our money wouldn't go to the city of Cleveland. It would go to a private company ACS logo from Google images. That's right ACS, a private company based in Dallas, Texas, manages the red-light cameras of Cleveland and makes big money doing it -- $3.6 million a year.And ACS keeps the red light records and the mayor defends the system.
Pohlman:
"Why are we allowing a business to do this?"
Jackson:
"Governments have vendors all over the place that have records about how they do business and when people ask for those records the government usually goes to the vendors and it's not unusual."
Pohlman: So far, we've only gotten these court records -- delivered last month -- showing all the hearings where people contested their tickets from red-light cameras.It shows a surprising number. More than one out of four people who took their case to municipal court last year won.
Hatala:
"Becomes pretty clear that it wasn't your vehicle that was speeding."
Pohlman:
Hatala won his case after he proved the city got the wrong car in the wrong lane.We've gotten hundreds of calls and emails from you telling us the city needs to stop the red light cameras.
Hatala:
"I think we should get rid of them."So far, the mayor has a three-word answer.
Jackson:
"No. I won't. "


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