Chicago may once have been known as the home of the mob in US with Al Capone running things, but for several years in the 2000s it looks like a completely legal racket may have made the city millions. A recent Chicago Tribune investigation has turned up some disturbing data about how the Windy City's network of red-light cameras used to be operated that may have given out thousands of bogus tickets.

Until 2013, Chicago had a contract with a company called Redflex Traffic Systems to operate its red-light cameras. If they caught someone running the light, the video was supposed to be reviewed twice, and if accurate, the driver received a $100 fine. Redflex and the city each took a portion of the money. However, their arrangement came to an abrupt end when it was eventually discovered that the company was bribing a city official. According to the Chicago Tribune, since 2003, the government netted around $500 million in revenue from the cams.

The new investigation found that drivers might have been getting the worst end of that deal. The Chicago Tribune examined four million red-light tickets going back to 2007. It found massive spikes in the numbers of infractions at several intersections that would last for short periods of time. In one extreme case, a camera that usually ticketed one person per day shot up to 56 per day.

To make matters more confusing, the cameras would occasionally stop giving out tickets for a brief period before and after these spikes. According to the report, that could have indicated maintenance being done, but the city didn't have any record of it. In some cases, the yellow-light times would also decrease during the spikes by as much as a second, as well.

Chicagoans affected by the bad tickets may not be completely out of luck, though. As a result of the Tribune story, a group of city aldermen opened their own investigation. "We want to find out what went wrong, and we want to see refunds where the ticket was wrongly issued," said alderman Scott Waguespack to the paper.

Separately, at about the same time the report was published, a Chicago man filed a federal lawsuit against Redflex and its parent company that asks for $100 million in refunds to drivers, according to CBS News. The case has nothing to do with the ticket spikes; instead, the man claims that the company's alleged bribery makes its contract with the city fraudulent.

Scroll down to watch three videos from the Chicago Tribune explaining what happened and speaking to traffic experts.






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  • 33 Comments
      dukeisduke
      • 5 Months Ago
      In other news, the new commenting system sucks.
        Larry Litmanen
        • 5 Months Ago
        @dukeisduke
        Why? I like it, you can still LIKE your own comments. What else can you ask for.
          Bungle
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Larry Litmanen
          Apparently, disliking your comments still works, too. ;-)
      icemilkcoffee
      • 5 Months Ago
      Yet another reminder that police work should never be privatized
        brandon
        • 5 Months Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        Actually, as evidenced by the fact that city officials were being bribed, which we all know happens all the time, it shows why A) Red-light and speed cameras should never be used; B) Why the government should be shrunk to the size that you can drown it in 12 inches of water. Thanks for your sheeple comment of the day.
        Larry Litmanen
        • 5 Months Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        Sorry i replied without reading the name. I was just wondering do you see every subject as conservative vs. liberal, like if you drink tea you are the enemy and if you drink coffee you are a trusted 0bama voter. Dude all jokes aside, i read your comment here all the time. You have serious issues with hate and politics, that's not healthy. Relax a little, maybe avoid reading political stuff for a while. You and Knightrider are like hamas of the Autoblog.
      rcavaretti
      • 5 Months Ago
      I can't remember a single case where some form of corruption wasn't uncovered when investigating one of these private companies tasked with the responsibility of red light or speed cameras. They're all in it for the money.
        brandon
        • 5 Months Ago
        @rcavaretti
        So is the state. That's why Virginia was/is so pissed about trapster. It has absolutely nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with lining the government coffers.
          lasertekk
          • 5 Months Ago
          @brandon
          Since the beginning of time, villages, towns, cities, etc. have issued punitive fees to their citizens. This just isn't new news. The part that is new is how a middle man weaselled his way to take a cut of the action, no doubt raising overall fees to satisfy his cut. Sounds like they took a page from the mob.
          brandon
          • 5 Months Ago
          @brandon
          You are missing my point. Sure, the fines are doubled. We'll go with that. The point is, the government isn't doing this for safety, they are doing it just as much to "make money" as the private firm is. If it were about safety, then they would ensure that roads are built in the safest manner possible, and that any problem area's are frequently monitored. Otherwise, it doesn't matter. What good is catching someone who runs a red-light at 2 am when there is no one around? Whom does that save? I'm not saying that person is right, but who was hurt?
      dukeisduke
      • 5 Months Ago
      Bribery of public officials, in Chicago? No WAY! /sarc
      Comeback Kid
      • 5 Months Ago
      I live by one and its like a light show every day. And most of shots arent even for any type of violation. It just goes off when a car crosses the intersection. $$$$
      Jim R
      • 5 Months Ago
      What a shock. Government corruption when it comes to revenue generation. In Chicago, no less. I NEVER would have expected that. In other news grass is green, water wet and the sun is expected to rise in the east, tomorrow.
      MONTEGOD7SS
      • 5 Months Ago
      TN is at least fighting the good fight against them. Without just outlawing them, they have made it exceedingly difficult for a red light camera to be profitable, and in the end that's what matters. They can't be within 1 mile of a speed limit change, and those are everywhere. They can't ticket for right on red, which was a huge part of tickets. All tickets have to be reviewed by a sworn LEO, and not just a desk jockey secretary. These things have made them all but useless around here, and in just the last month two on my commute have suddenly vanished. Hopefully they will all be gone soon.
      charles
      • 5 Months Ago
      Wow, the posting is still messed up and no edit function available. Can someone explain what exactly got improved here?
      FuelToTheFire
      • 5 Months Ago
      I really hate red light cameras. Common sense > law and order. If I see a yellow right and it's about to turn red as I come through, I just go ahead. Who cares if by the time I'm in the intersection, the light is red? It's perfectly safe. Also, if there clearly isn't ANY traffic around, it makes perfect sense to run a red, even though it might be illegal.
      ken
      • 5 Months Ago
      But technically, that Corolla needed to stop completely before the intersection and then turn right according to the green right turn signal. Rolling stop is not allow in law and a grey area for law enforcement.
      Larry Litmanen
      • 5 Months Ago
      Here's my take on redlight cameras. If you don't know they are there you drive as you always would, but if you do know they are there you make sure you don't do anything illegal. I once run the light and got a $60 fine, after that i can asure you i have never done anything of the sort. If people know there's a camera in the area they drive more accurately with more alertness, they do not run the light if they know it is about to change. I know it is hip to blame the gov.....and yes these are to generate revenue................but they serve a purpose, once you get 2 or 3 tickets you will drive much better and within legal standards. People who opose these cameras tend to be people who think they are the best drivers in the world and that there's nothing wrong with running a light or two.
        white_blur47
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Larry Litmanen
        I agree with you in that if you know the camera is there you make sure to stop or go the correct speed. However where you know they are not, people will still drive like normal, sometimes running red lights. Just like most people drive differently when a police car is around, and once it gets on an exit, people speed right up again.
      Arizonarelax
      • 5 Months Ago
      So Chicago invests in cameras while 48 people were murdered in the Windy City last weekend. Yea, ok I get it.
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