BEST BOONDOGGLE Minneapolis 2006 -
Last July, the city of Minneapolis installed cameras at 12 busy intersections and began snapping photographs of every vehicle that ran a red light. The owners of offending vehicles were then mailed $142 tickets. Naturally, the stated purpose of the stop-on-red program was "public safety." But it's a safe bet that city leaders didn't mind that these prolific ticket-writing machines were generating gobs of extra revenue. By the end of February, in fact, the city's photo cops had issued some 33,000 citations, thus providing ample justification for the program's half-million-dollar start-up cost. That is, if the program were actually legal. In March, Hennepin County Judge Mark Wernick ruled that the ordinance establishing the photo cop was invalid. In retrospect, it's not hard to see why. What is baffling is that the city's attorneys hadn't anticipated the problem. In issuing tickets, the police made no effort to determine the identity of drivers; they simply cited the registered owner of the vehicle. If individuals who were ticketed said they didn't run the light, it was up to them to prove it. This reversed the fundamental standard for burden of proof and, in Judge Wernick's view, violated the due-process provisions in the state traffic code. The city has decided to appeal Wernick's ruling, which—despite the major legal hurdles—is not very surprising. After all, throwing good money after bad is one of the hallmarks of the classic boondoggle.