The [Thursday] Papers
"A Tribune examination of overturned red light tickets revealed evidence that the city of Chicago has quietly cast a wider net to snare drivers since switching camera vendors earlier this year amid a bribery scandal," the paper reports.
"A before-and-after analysis of photographic evidence and interviews with experts suggests the transition to a new vendor last spring was accompanied by a subtle but significant lowering of the threshold for yellow light times.
"City hearing officers have noticed the trend and are increasingly tossing tickets because the yellow light time stamped on the citation is less than the 3-second minimum required by the city, the Tribune analysis showed."
"Xerox State & Local Solutions took over the program in March. Since April, hearing officers have cited short yellow lights as the reason for throwing out more than 200 of roughly 1,500 rejected red light tickets, according to their written notations. In the four years before that, under the old vendor, judges blamed short yellows only 37 times out of more than 12,000 successful appeals, according to their written notes.
"It's a rate 50 times higher than when the old vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., ran the program."
All is forgiven, Redflex! May we offer a bribe to get you back?
"'Right now we are having a big problem with these red lights, and the city needs to get this straightened out,' administrative law judge Robert Sussman said during one hearing in August where he tossed two successive red light camera tickets because of short yellow times.
"I am getting 60 to 70 percent of my Xerox photos that come up, they are under 3 (seconds)," Sussman said. "When the city starts getting this stuff right, I will start finding liability again like I was doing before. But right now, I just can't do it until the city becomes more reliable . . . Something is going on here. I mean this has to be taken care of."
"City officials said the yellow light times being rejected by judges as too short are in fact valid because they fall within an allowable variance that is caused by fluctuations in electrical power.
"It's showing 2.9, it records 2.9 on the data bar as you see on the violation," Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said in a recent interview. "But that actual performance is probably 2.998 - or something like that - where the variation is in the hundredths or thousandths of a second, which is imperceptible."
Um, that just makes it worse, Rebekah. Now you're telling me that I'm gonna be out a hundred bucks not for misjudging a yellow light a second but for misjudging a yellow light by two-thousandths of a second.
"Scheinfeld said Xerox made a business decision 'to truncate' the measurement as it appears on the ticket to a tenth of a second, 'and that is all well within the national standard for any type of allowable variance.'"
I'm not sure if that means Xerox made a business decision to save ink by not printing the the full number on tickets or if that means Xerox made a business decision to make more money by aggressively penalizing poor schlumps who don't have atomic clocks in their heads.
"Asked why Xerox had so many tickets with yellow times below 3 seconds when Redflex tickets - which showed measurements to the hundredths of a second - almost never showed a time below 3 seconds, Scheinfeld declined to answer, citing an ongoing investigation by the city's inspector general."
A) Didn't she just tell us it was a business decision?
B) Funny how she just remembered upon the asking of this question that there was an ongoing investigation and therefore shouldn't comment.
Nothing about that investigation, by the way, precludes her from answering the question.
"In the course of uncovering troubling and unexplained spikes involving tens of thousands of tickets during Redflex's tenure, the Tribune reported in July that it found hundreds of cases where yellow light times fluctuated between 4 and 3 seconds. But the Redflex tickets rarely went below 3 seconds, the newspaper found."
Again, better off with the bribe company.
"Asked why hearing officers hired by Emanuel's administration to enforce the traffic laws are routinely throwing out the tickets if the time is allowable, Scheinfeld said the hearing officers are independent."
See, if the hearing officers were under Emanuel's control, they'd be upholding those tickets despite the evidence! Our guys would be ignoring the law!
"City officials have not yet complied with a Sept. 5 Tribune request for a database of recent red light camera tickets. Those records would help identify how many drivers were ticketed under short yellow lights."
My guess is they're just within two-thousandths of a second of the timing requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
"Because fewer than 10 percent of all ticketed drivers ever bother to appeal red light tickets, it is possible that thousands of drivers have been dinged for fines they wouldn't have received before Xerox took over in April."
The city is probably analyzing the data themselves so they can figure out how to preempt the Tribune - or at least spin it.
"The city of Chicago sets all its traffic lights based on the shortest allowable time under federal safety guidelines, which suggest yellow intervals ranging from 3 to 6 seconds depending on the speed of traffic."
Rewritten: "The city of Chicago sets all its traffic lights based on the highest revenue-generation possible under federal safety guidelines."
"City officials have refused to answer questions about whether the city or Xerox made any changes to the yellow light criteria."
Which can only lead us to conclude they did.
Another NRI Gun That Didn't Smoke
"But as a legislative hearing into the troubled Neighborhood Recovery Initiative resumed Wednesday, e-mails surfaced that revealed the program was a top priority of the Democratic governor's campaign staff in the weeks leading up to Election Day four years ago."
That may sound ominous, but if the Tribune is highlighting the "worst" of the e-mails in this article, it's another win for Quinn.
The e-mails, involving Quinn's 2010 campaign manager Ben Nuckels, media advisers, pollsters and former Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin show that from Sept. 10 through Oct. 8, the anti-violence program was a top issue of weekly and twice-weekly re-election campaign discussions.
I don't get it. The grant program was listed as "stateside," or a state-government issue, among campaign staff. Isn't that just a statement of fact? Why is the Tribune - by continuing with "moreover," as in, "even worse . . . ," inferring that such a characterization illustrates some sort of wrongdoing on the part of Quinn's staff?
Moreover, e-mails between Nuckels, Lavin, Quinn's then-campaign spokeswoman and the governor's brother, Tom Quinn, show that the grant program was part of discussions over a media strategy to bolster support in the African-American community in Chicago.
Should the campaign not plan on touting a program it believes will create jobs and save lives? It would be different if the e-mails described the way the program was designed for political benefit instead of saving the most lives. But they don't. Another non-smoking gun.
Just because you have the e-mails doesn't mean you have to build a story around them. Or, and I know news organizations hate doing this but, the story could be that the e-mails are innocuous. That might actually be news, given that we already know what a shoddy operation the grant program really was. Maybe the administration didn't know that.
There is a smoking gun of sorts hidden in this article, though. It's this, in the 16th paragraph:
The e-mails also showed one senior adviser questioning the effectiveness of the grant program. Jerry Stermer sent a post-election e-mail on Jan. 27, 2011 to Lavin and then-Quinn budget director David Vaught noting social service interest groups may complain that money spent on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative cost them additional dollars.
That, in fact, is exactly what happened, as I recounted in The Problems And Politics Of Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
This is the danger of committing to a particular narrative in your head; you often end up missing the real story.
North America's Collision Repair Experts Weigh In On The Hefty Costs Of Hitting A Deer
Also, don't accept rides from Greg Walter.
The Blue & Orange Kool-Aid Report
It ended something like this:
Chicago stuck with freakin' Lucas Museum. Get well, Karen Lewis.
Or the Whiting mascot people.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Mascots welcome.
Posted on October 9, 2014
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