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tv   Ali Velshi on Target  Al Jazeera  November 3, 2015 1:00am-1:31am EST

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>> what is the number one cause of death for police officers? >> suicide. >> i'm ali velshi. "on target" tonight, hitting the brakes. red light cameras set up to make intersections safer also make a ton of revenue for america's cities. yellow lights and quick money that makes it hard to stop more than one. >> i'm talking tonight about two subjects that may not seem to belong in the same discussion. one is the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents in american cities. the other is the lawrnlg budget
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large budgets shortfalls in those cities including chicago. red light cameras you know what i'm talking about cameras that take photos of drivers running red lights. tickets that can cost drivers between $$50 and nearly $500, drivers desire to avoid those tickets cause crashes. independent research shows a 13 to 29% reduction in injury related crashes at intersections that have red light cameras. now the insurance institute is funded by auto insurance companies and in california and arizona, insurers can raise premiums on violation points, that's a potential conflict of interest. critics will tell you many of the cameras are not marked, that means drivers don't know they
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are there and that would argue they're a deterrent for running red lights. more to boost revenue than to promote public safety. public outcry against the cameras is one of the reasons for communities being on decline. cameras are in use in 23 states including california, new york, texas and ilnoyes.earlier i mentioned chicago's budget shortfall. well the city just passed a massive property tax increase to plug a $745 million hole. so mayor rahm emanuel can hardly afford to hit the brakes on revenue generated by red light cameras. but chicago's red light program has sparked huge controversy, shortened yellow lights. quickly starting with red lights and taking some unexpected turns. captured on cameras, vehicles
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running red lights with disastrous results. acciden accidents like these have killed nearly 9,000 people in the united states. one of the most controversial methods is to use red light cameras. >> in communities across new jersey, traffic safety cameras are working to keep people safe on our roads. >> that's from a video on the website of red flex traffic systems. one of the leading manufacturers of red light cameras. red flex says stirred sho studies show, red light cameras reduce high speed red light t bone crashes. federal highway administration include that red light cameras almost always lead to a steep increase in rear end collisions. >> when you throw a red light camera up at a intersection it creates a psychological problem because you've got all of these things going on in the driver's
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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 reporting for the chicago tribune. he has been following the troubled history of chicago's red light program. since 2003 the city's neerl cits nearly 500 red light cameras have brought in $500 million in fines, an amount the city desperately need. >> ending the red light camera program only creates more
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problems for government of 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 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 millions more revenue for the city. >> there's probably between half million to a million discrete vehicle owners that have received red light
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violations. gltion class action lawsuit against the city of chicago on behalf of motorists who received red light camera tickets. >> the red light camera programs are really the result of an unholy alliance between for profit companies such as red flex and cash strapped municipalities. and they combine the worst of both. >> terry kada is one of keating's clients. >> this red light camera is a thief, doing nothing more than stealing people's money. >> $100 citation, after being captured in an intersection going through an intervention with less than the three second interval. he's known as the red polite
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doctor. vagel is able to capture the exa exact red light interval. >> the city is right at the edge. they claim they are adhering to the law which they are not. >> he runs a test on this intersection. its red light camera ranks as one of the biggest money makers in chicago. routinely raking in more than $1.6 million per year. today his camera proves that this chicago yellow light last the just 2.873 seconds. >> i've come away with a distinct impression that red light camera revenue is municipal crack cocaine. they are hooked on it. they will go down fighting before they give up the revenue from the camera. >> red light cameras are also the main topic of conversation on the barber shop on chicago's west side. >> you should not keep squeezing
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the people at the bottom of the toe tell pole. >> illinois house of representatives he's been coming to herb since he was a kid. ford recently proposed legislation to freeze red light cameras in chicago. >> let's talk about the fine. $100 for running the red light. just pay the $100. >> talk about the real life tickets. let's say you make $10, $15 an hour. you get two tickets, you get a boot, you lose the car. >> mess up your credit yes, there are a lot of unintended consequences. >> over a $100 ticket. >> and red light cameras continue to be a topic of conversation in chicago. that's because of some estimates, 75% of intersections with red light cameras like this one lipped me have yellow lights that are shorter than three seconds. and remember, that the city of chicago red light cameras generate about 600,000 tickets a year. kidwell says chicago became the
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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 moac memo which a whise blower leaked. >> it said this city employees by the name of john bills had received $1500 per camera for every camera that he oversaw the installation of. and there were 384 of thems at that time. >> then another former red flex employee named michael schmidt approached him. red flex ceo karen find leigh finley and john bils. >> john bils had a meeting with karen finley and several of her top executives to coach them on
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how to behave at the next day at city hall. >> this is schmidt's first time on camera describing what john bills said to him. >> he looked directly at me, i'm going to talk to you like i don't know you and you have to go along with it. i looked at his boss karen finley, she held one finger up like this then put it down and shook her head just a little bit. >> at this point the fix was in. red flex was awarded a contract, worth $129 million to install all the red light cameras. but the investigative 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 discharge.
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as an assistant transportation commissioner bills received as much as $2 million in bribes from red flex. red flex's headquarters in phoenix, arizona, came under scrutiny. finley came under investigation that she had conspiracy to bribe bills. and bribing officials in ohio, and there are signs that chicago may be starting to hit the brakes on its red light camera program. the city filed a $300 million lawsuit against red flex charging the city's entire red light program was built on red flex's systematic bribery ever john bills. bills attorney said his client never had the power or authority to do what federal prosecutors
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alleged and he did what was in the best interests of chicago. he faces up to ten years in prison. but red flex's problems are far from over. a fired former executive of that company now working with federal prosecutors allegatio alleges ir lawsuit that red flex bribed officials in add least 13 other states. for its part red flex says the company has new leadership, new systems and new policies and is committed to transparency and honesty in our business ractses. practices. bust despite that, kidwell says they will probably not stop their program soon. >> they still have 300 cameras and it still fills a very, very huge budget hole for city of chicago. >> meanwhile the folks over at herb
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harrington's barber shop: >> they don't give two cent about your safety. the crime rate here is terrible. >> right. >> they care about your safety when it comes to driving? really? >> well the chicago mayor's office referred al jazeera to the city's department of transportation. we asked the department why so many of the city's city's yellow lights were timed below the recommended time, we wanted more information about the city's $300 million lawsuit against red flex traffic systems. well despite repeated attempts the chicago department of transportation declined to answer any of our questions. now with all the evidence out there you think someone would have put a stop to chicago's troubled red light program. coming up i'll talk to one of the men who used to be in
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charge. >> tough that the country gave up on me. >> look at the trauma... every day is torture. >> this is our home. >> nobody should have to live like this. >> we made a promise to these heroes... this is one promise americans need to keep.
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>> you're the first one on the scene. suicides, homicides, the roof is crushing into somebody's chest. >> what is the number one cause of death for police officers? >> suicide. >> tonight we're looking at
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chicago's troubled red light camera programs. critics say it has raised as much as $500 million over the last few years by essentially fleecing drivers. yellow lights flash from yellow to red faster than common. finally chicago's program led to a bribery and corruption scandal involving the company that sold the city the cameras. gabe kline is chicago's department of transportation commissioner from 2011 to 2013. he wrote a new book called startup city, describing how private-public partnerships can be used to get things done. thank you for joining us. the city of chicago states its entire red light camera program is based on the systematic bribing of john bills your
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assistant comer commissioner th. begs the question, why didn't you put an end to the red light program when you were a boss? >> i'm here to talk about the cameras in general, rather than chicago in specific. mr. bills retired the week i got there so my interaction he with him were very limited. i spent most of my time working on a speed camera program. the red light 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's bad actors in the private sector and public sector. that's very unfortunately. it seems to -- unfortunate. it seems to happen 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, rear end crashes don't generally result
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in fatal faith advertise, it's a fact. i'd like to see them work and i hope they have more across the country including here in washington, d.c. >> the majority of swrekses with red light cameras had below 3 seconds below 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. i was the commissioner of the department, i didn't really handle the you know 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 new more upgraded
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digital signal systems. so i doubt, if it's off by 1/10 of 1 second that that was by design. >> i guess problem chicago like a lot of other cities, you've worked in other cities and wrien written a book about things that could be more effective this cities. financial stress, budget gap of more than $700 million in chicago since it began, before you were in there in 2003, this red light program in chicago and like it's done in other cities has brought in more than $500 million in fines. it becomes hard to -- the guy in the story says it's like crack, just becomes hard to get reiterate 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
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in danger? and the fact is we lose 32,000 people every year to car crashes. the number one killer of teenagers, worldwide 1.24 million. the bottom line is we have a health epidemic on our streets. it's not war, it's not aids, it is car crashes that are killing people more than anything else. we've got to deal with it. this idea that you run a red light or you speed you shouldn't have any consequences. when the consequences if you hit somebody are death. 95% of people hit at 40 miles per hour or more are going to die. that's serious. and we can't allow that on our streets any longer. >> all right gabe kline, thanks for joining us. gabe kline was the commissioner of traffic enforcement. red light cameras also save people's lives. >> "inside story" takes you beyond the headlines,
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beyond the quick cuts, beyond the soundbites. we're giving you a deeper dive into the stories that are making our world what it is.
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>> we're talking tonight about a controversial red light program in chicago which last netted the city $500 million. citiics say chicago is addicted to revenue from the red light cameras. i spoke with angie schmidt, an editor at street blog u.s.a. as you just heard from gabe kline, angie told me that while they may lead to more rear end accidents, they reduce t bone accidents.
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>> sears loss of injuries, those are red light run being collisions, t bone collisions, not rear end fender benders. the vast majority of the scholarly research shows these are effective. >> remember chicago is just coming off of this parking meter scandal if you will, where it seems the city is so desperate for revenue they'll outis source ideas to people. moody's called the decision credit-negative for local treasuries. so part of the issue here, the heart of the issue is not necessarily the stuff you study which is whether or not the red light camera is safer for intersection, but the ham-fisted way with which chicago has once again handled this. >> i greap there hav agree. there have been problems in chicago. one thing we recommend is communities have to be careful the way they roll these out.
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a lot of people feel very passionately obviously about this issue. so one thing they should do and one thing the we recommend is they shouldn't relien the revenue. where i live akron they use them but only in school zone and all the money is used for child safety programs. that's a good practice for cities. keep the money dedicated to programs that are aimed at safety, for example. >> right, so this issue in chicago 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 3 seconds, which is the federally recommended minimum. and studies do show that decreasing the duration of the yellow light increases accidents, as well. i got to -- instinctively i would tell you if that's the case and if i'm going through
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and proceed through the yellow light and pawstle and all of a sudden it turns red i'm going to slam on the brakes. >> these are new technologies so i think the regulations maybe haven't caught up with the technology. i think those kind of problems should be addressed and there should be some protections for motorists so the technology is not being taken advantage of like you described. i don't think those programs are a good reason to throw out the use of this technology altogether because it can be a life saving tool. a study from the institute for traffic safety, it could save 859 lives a year. >> i got a different study from the federal highway administration. i think i want to get your opinion on this. funded by the insurance companies what's their dog in the hunt?
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do they want traffic tickets, lights that stop people from going through traffic light or greater revenue or prevent crashes? i'm trying othink of the motivation of everyone involved because there are reports that say different things. >> i think they have a clear interest in reducing motor vehicle collisions and especially serious ones that deaths. so i think that they have a pretty clear interest just in the issue of safety. and i think they're pretty impartial source so i really trust them but you could speculate. >> one of the comments you heard in the story we just ran where these guys sitting around the barber shop, you know what you don't make much money and you get a boot on your car, there are people who criticize traffic tickets in general, this came out in ferguson, missouri, traffic tickets that disproportionately affects the
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poor. this is your gig you report on these things. what have you made about these arguments in the past? >> well, i had a little bit of twrubl tha trouble with that argument. first of all the poorest of our families aren't driving. they are relying on transit and 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 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 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 very reasonable proposal and i wonder what the response would be from these gentlemen that complain about
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the equity issue you described. >> that's our show for today. i'm ali velshi. thank you for joining us. the news continues here on al jazeera america. s you are a huge country, feeling its oats, richer, more powerful, more confident. you want to change the boundaries of your territorial waters and you neighbors around happy. china is testing the proposition that might makes right. could it also set off a war? a new line in the water. it's the inside story. ♪


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