Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 1, 2013

Forum: Bill introduction needed a yellow light

By Rory Heckman
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — I have been involved in law enforcement, until my recent retirement, for 39 years. This involved criminal as well as motor vehicle law. It is amazing that a local legislator would be introducing legislation concerning the enforcement of motor vehicle laws, via a program to bring red light enforcement cameras, without seeking input from the very people who are involved with enforcing these very laws, before doing so. Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley was quoted in a May 26 Record-Eagle story, “is there a need for this in Michigan, where are the statistics?” The sheriff is right on.

According to the Michigan State Police, traffic accident numbers are down during the past 10 years. According to the State Police, total crashes are down from 2002 when there were 395,515 versus 273,891 in 2012. Total injuries are down as well from 2002 when there were 112,484 versus 70,519 during 2012. Fatalities were also down from 2002 when there were 1,279 versus 936 in 2012.

Red light cameras have resulted in plenty of controversy across the nation, from Florida, Missouri and California. In fact in the State of California the courts have ruled, “there’s no real enforcement of the tickets due to the fact that courts find the cases difficult to prove, as the person receiving the ticket is often not the person driving the car at the time the photo was snapped, the courts have now ruled that violations caught on a photo are unenforceable since there is no live witness to testify against an alleged offender.”

That’s right, the citation goes to the registered owner of the motor vehicle who may not be the driver at the time of the violation.

Once a state has approved the use of the cameras for red light enforcement, there are plenty of costs associated with the programs. Not only for the hardware but also the expense of someone to send out the citation and collect the money. That is where these vendors, who have these cameras, make their money. They sell the cities the hardware but also administer the program for them. These programs are not cheap. That is where the money comes into play. Wouldn’t it make better sense to hire additional professional law enforcement officers to handle all aspects of law enforcement?

About the author: Rory Heckman of Beulah is retired as Benzie County Sheriff.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.