Tag Archives: GPS

Robbing Taxpayers to Pay the Bondsman

While the bail bondsmen’s lobby generally receives little attention, they are using political clout to further their interests at great expense to taxpayers across the country.

Advances in GPS technology have allowed judges the option to release non-violent suspected criminals before their trials, wearing ankle bracelets to keep track of their whereabouts. Pretrial release programs can save localities millions of dollars annually compared to the cost of holding suspects in prison. Pretrial release also allows citizens to continue with their daily routines while they await trial and often prevents personal financial hardship as a result.

NPR’s Laura Sullivan reports:

It wasn’t just the money that made the program valuable. Three years ago, the Broward County jail was so full, a judge called the conditions unconstitutional.

Instead of building a new $70 million jail as they had proposed, county commissioners voted to expand pretrial release, letting more inmates out on supervised release. Within a year, the jail population plunged, so much so that the sheriff closed an entire wing. It saved taxpayers $20 million a year.

However, the program in Broward County, Florida was severely cut back after the bondsmen’s lobby pressured the commissioners to protect their profits:

According to campaign records… bondsmen spread almost $23,000 across the council in the year before the bill was passed. Fifteen bondsmen cut checks worth more than $5,000 to commissioner and now-county Mayor Ken Keechl just five days before the vote.

Aside from the expense to taxpayers that holding suspects before their trials imposes, another NPR story in the same series explains that releasing inmates on bail disadvantages low-income prisoners:

People with money get out. They go back to their jobs and their families, pay their bills and fight their cases. And according to the Justice Department and national studies, those with money face far fewer consequences for their crimes.

People without money stay in jail and are left to take whatever offer prosecutors feel like giving them.

The Speed Camera Wars

The Washington Examiner reports that D.C. police are frustrated by new technology that allows drivers to pinpoint and avoid speed and red-light cameras. The technology, called PhatomAlert, streams to iPhones and GPS devices, sounding an alarm as drivers get close to cameras. Radar detection devices are illegal in D.C. and Virginia, but outlawing these devices may prove impossible.

D.C. police say their 290 cameras, first installed in 1999, have saved lives. Studies of the effectiveness of cameras on road safety offer conflicting data. The Governors Highway Safety Association says they’ve reduced violations and crashes.  The Virginia Transportation Research Council says they increase rear-end crashes.

Others argue cameras are more of a revenue trap for government, and they are used in bad faith; for example, citizens in Denver contend yellow lights were shortened to increase fines.

Photo radar tickets generated $1 billion in revenue between 2005 and 2008 for the District. In Maryland, Montgomery County’s cameras are expected to generate $29 million this fiscal year.

Anti-camera sentiment has led to lawsuits — motorists in Washington state are suing for being fined excessively for violations caught on traffic camera. And worse: a man in Glendale, Arizona took a pick axe to a speeding camera. He was fined $3,500.

VMT fee – user pays solution or government intrusion?

I’m attending the Preserving the American Dream Conference in Bellevue, Washington. This morning I presented on a panel with Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation, and Greg Cohen of the American Highway Users Alliance. One issue discussed was Vehicle Miles Traveled fee as a revenue source for roads. As Dr. Staley, noted, it’s a subject of live debate.

The virtues: VMT fees are based on the principle of user pays, and is  now technologically possible  with Satellite tracking and GPS systems. The fear is that VMT systems will allow government to monitor driving habits, speeds, and pinpoint your whereabouts.

But as Alan Pisarski raised during the discussion – it’s who owns the data (and what they do with it)  that really matters.  If the provider is private, and not public, then the VMT poses the same level of privacy invasion as using a credit card.