“All agree that the legislature cannot bargain away the police power of a State. ‘Irrevocable grants of property and franchises may be made if they do not impair the supreme authority to make laws for the right government of the State; but [101 U.S. 814, 818] no legislature can curtail the power of its successors to make such laws as they may deem proper in matters of police.’ Metropolitan Board of Excise v. Barrie, 34 N. Y. 657; Boyd v. Alabama, 94 U.S. 645 . Many attempts have been made in this court and elsewhere to define the police power, but never with entire success. It is always easier to determine whether a particular case comes within the general scope of the power, than to give an abstract definition of the power itself which will be in all respects accurate. No one denies, however, that it extends to all matters affecting the public health or the public morals. Beer Company v. Massachusetts, 97 id. 25; Patterson v. Kentucky, id. 501. Neither can it be denied that lotteries are proper subjects for the exercise of this power.” – Chief Justice Waite
Despite the good intentions of public officials, in its “Request for Proposals for Automated Red Light Enforcement System,” the City of Knoxville’s legislature affects to “bargain away the police power,” which is forbidden by the United States Supreme Court in the decision above (Stone vs. Mississippi, 1879). The restriction invoked hinges on the debatable definition of “police power,” which is generally accepted as “the capacity of a government to regulate behavior and enforce order within its territory.”
Beyond the obvious illegality of camera systems, there are other noteworthy aspects of original intent that pertain to automated enforcement systems like the red light cameras in Knoxville. When we consider the constitutional framework of our government, the implementation of automated enforcement is offensive to the liberty intended. In opposition the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it assumes, searches for, and punishes the trivial moral shortcomings of free and good people-without probable cause.
The aforementioned “Request for Proposals” leaves the responsibility of policing public intersections to a private entity. This private entity is not a local company, and moreover has no responsibility to the electorate. If the citizens do not like the way the firm operates, they cannot elect a new firm; it remains unfettered by political dissent. Whereas the public police force has a primary objective of protecting and serving the people, the private firm’s primary objective is to earn a profit, even if at a cost to the rights, safety and happiness of citizens (as has been proven in Chattanooga’s case, among others). With the “Request for Proposals”, the enforcement of a traffic signal is no longer for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of a private firm.
There is a psychological change that takes place in drivers as a result of traffic light enforcement, which existed before automated camera systems, but is exacerbated by their introduction. When the rules of the road originated, it was not necessary to enforce their use. With rare and extremely unusual exception, people followed the signals out of an interest in their own safety. It is now unusual for drivers to follow signals for this reason; the reason now is to follow a law, without regard to safety. While people know the signals are there to keep them safe, they do not follow them for their personal safety. Because of traffic law enforcement, the objective of an automobile’s operator has been fundamentally altered. The driver’s original purpose, “to arrive at a destination as quickly as is safely possible,” has been replaced by a new one, “to arrive at a destination as quickly as is legally possible.” This psychological change, which can only be attributed to unnecessary and costly enforcement, has made American roads much less safe, because individuals are more apt to act for their own benefit than for the pleasure of authority.
It is unfortunate for lazy enterprises that good government practices rarely grant profitable contracts, and it is the policy of bad governments, as well as bad businesses, to reward mere association and sloth. Proper engineering and timing of signals will do much more for reducing accidents than any enforcement firms ever could, but these will require natural law and common sense to be used in place of coercion and lucrative contracts, an occasion rarely seen in our time.
Automated enforcement contracts are a dangerous sign that we are but a step from the sort of fascism Mussolini called “corporatism,” and defined as “a merger of state and corporate power.”
Request for Proposals for Red Light Automated Enforcement:
Stone vs. Mississippi (1879):
Fourth Amendment text:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”