Our View: Next time, hit the brakes


The Alexandria Police Department and City Hall should have done their homework before recklessly implementing red-light cameras to mitigate traffic accidents in the city. Whether Alexandrians agree with placing cameras at three intersections, everyone can agree that public officials have the responsibility to wade into such issues pragmatically before the fact, not after it. 

It all started when the Washington Times made a few assertions about the program on their editorial pages. Among them was the point that paying $50 for running a red light was effectively voluntary, because until a law officer personally delivers a citation to the violator, he is not legally liable to pay. If red-light runners simply trashed their ticket, the city would trash taxpayer money and manpower sending public safety officers to the front doors of countless homes, the editorial argued.    

Police Chief Earl Cook responded in a letter to the editor, claiming, If violators fail to respond to the violation notice, the matter will be turned over to a collection agency. Contrary to the assertion in the editorial, tickets are valid in Virginia if they are sent in the mail

Chief Cook was wrong.

The Alexandria Times confirmed not only does the collection agency hold zero legal sway over the violator, but a hand-delivered citation is the only way to propel justice forward and force payment onto lead-footed drivers, according to Virginia law.

The most unnerving part of the situation? The City of Alexandrias police department, transportation department and even its own attorneys were unaware of the laws nuances until newspapers pushed for answers. City Hall was as clueless as the public until media began poking around. And police have yet to address the Alexandria Times on this specific matter at all, despite repeated queries.

Meanwhile, the cameras have perched atop three Alexandria intersections since July. 

The city is apparently committed to enforcing the program at all costs literally. The man-hours, administrative costs and gasoline used for the APDs convoluted, complex process (see graphic on page 5) could negate the $50 fine. Perhaps this proves the program really is about safety, not generating revenue, which the Washington Times questioned. But its a happy coincidence for the APD, which did not understand its own system until recently.

Making assertions without respect for the facts is irresponsible and damages credibility. Before a controversial program makes its way to reality, top decision makers could learn from traffic signals: observe a yellow light. Slow down.