The Florida League of Cities has gotten behind red-light cameras in a big way... thanks to the league's president, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, and her relentless insistence that the cameras -- through which a company in Arizona automatically sends hefty fines to red-light-runners -- actually save lives.
Cooper, representing the league, has been on the radio in the past defending the cameras, and recently she published a Miami Herald editorial. She argues against possible legislation that would prevent new red-light-camera programs from being instated, writing, "The violation of red-light traffic signals is the No. 1 cause of urban motor vehicle collisions. The installation and use of red-light cameras have proven to reduce intersection collisions by 40 percent."
Cooper is used to stirring up opposition on her home turf, and this time is no different. Former Hallandale City Manager and suspense-thriller author R.J. Intindola, whose views frequently clash with Cooper's, says her editorial is a bunch of hooey.
"Having worked with Joy Cooper for several years, I know she shoots from the hip using a shotgun approach, and then tries to justify her false statements," Intindola wrote in a rebuttal on Mike Butler's blog, ChangeHallandale.com.
He draws attention to a statement by Cooper that "Not being able to pay as many police officers is a challenge, but instead of putting cities and towns at risk with less officers on the streets, red-light traffic cameras can still effectively enforce the law, and allow officers to do their job -- protect citizens."
Not so fast... "In the case in Hallandale Beach Florida, her statement is not factual. A review of the 2009 budget indicates there are an equal number of police personnel today as there were when I retired in November of 2002," writes the former city manager.
Joy Cooper has a fondness for the dramatic, and for the misuse of facts. So I undertook my own investigation to validate her statements and determine the truth regarding the use of red light cameras.
For example, I located many of the same Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics used by Mayor Cooper. But I could not locate any other website or study that illustrated the positive aspects of red light cameras. Instead, a considerable amount of research concludes that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is providing self-serving statistics, provided exclusively by consultants they hired.
It's probably not the case that Cooper is trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes here... we'll bet she's not bent on enacting a big-brother dystopian society where Arizonans monitor our every move. She's clearly concerned about motorist safety, and we should remember that. Nobody with sinister motives would suffer the boredom of flipping through pages of highway-safety statistics, even with the intention to misuse them.
But it appears that once Cooper espouses a cause and really decides that it's right, she's willing to use a pretty generous toolkit to convince the public that it's a good idea. Just look to her weekly paid editorials in Hallandale's local paper, which fill up an entire page with the World of Joy.
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Citizens like Mike Butler and Intindola are often effective watchdogs, and just as one would hope that their view of facts aren't influenced by political resentment, one would hope that Mayor Cooper's political crusades employ fact rather than obfuscation.