Inspector General’s Statement to City Council Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety

Opening Statement of the Inspector General Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety regarding Red Light Cameras, October 28, 2014

Chairman Burnett, and members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon about the Office of Inspector General’s report on the Red-Light Camera program, which is a matter of great public interest and concern. Since there has been ample time and public commentary since OIG published its review, I will assume some amount of familiarity with our report and will therefore provide just a brief overview with particular attention to the scope and conclusions of our work. Our review also provides detailed descriptions of the City of Chicago Red-Light Camera program’s historical management, about which I am also happy to answer questions individually or in conjunction with Commissioner Scheinfeld and First Deputy Comptroller Keane.

As many of you know, OIG has looked at the Red-Light Camera program before, including a 2013 audit of Red-Light Camera placement and an ongoing criminal public corruption investigation of a long-running kickback scheme involving, among others, the RLC program’s former manager and a senior executive of the former vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc.

OIG initiated this review at the request of the Mayor and the City Council. The investigative reporting of the Chicago Tribune had stirred significant doubts about an important public safety program that has a daily, direct impact on the general public. Thus we approached our work from the perspective that our best contribution was to bring forward in a short period of time information and analysis about the program generally and the anomalies identified in the Tribune’s analysis. We therefore proceeded by way of a program review, rather than a formal audit and focused on how the program operates, how it has been managed, and what it should do to ensure that forward-going the program is being managed with accountability, with transparency, and consonant with its stated policy objectives.

Conclusions

As part of this review our office examined the City’s contracts and operating procedures with its former vendor RedFlex, those under its current contract with Xerox, as well as IBM, which is utilized under a general City contract and is a second stage reviewer of RLC events. We also looked at available and relevant City and Redflex maintenance records and information captured by the camera systems. We did not systematically examine the validity of any individual violations, as that was the subject of a separate, parallel and independent third review that the City offered to potentially aggrieved parties and that was conducted without our participation or input. Overall we concluded that historically the City exhibited deficient management of the RLC program through its former vendor Redflex. Specifically the City,

  • failed to request and review data from Redflex that would have identified enforcement anomalies immediately after they occurred;
  • focused its analysis and activities primarily on addressing systems that generated no or few citations, with the objective of merely keeping camera systems operating;
  • was deficient in achieving even this more limited objective of keeping camera systems operational—as reflected in the findings concerning one location where over a period of years a loop detector was generally non-operative, resulting in ineffectual traffic enforcement;
  • did not perform trend or time-based analyses to determine if Redflex was operating the RLC systems as required and the RLC systems were functioning to specifications.

We observed here some of the more pernicious effects of what can happen when governmental bodies treat the outsourcing of important governmental functions as an occasion for neglecting program management responsibilities—responsibilities like dedicated contract management and oversight. Here, the historical neglect of program and contract management allowed anomalies in ticketing, both above and below otherwise prevailing norms to continue for significant periods. Unmonitored and unannounced changes to the enforcement parameters of the program, including some that eroded the public’s trust in the program. Moreover, malfunctioning systems such as the one at the Kimball-Lincoln-McCormick intersection led to extended periods of under enforcement and may have thus undermined the primary safety objective of the program.

Suggestions

Restoration of public trust in the Red-Light Camera program will require effective program and contract management measures implemented with dedication and vigilance. I am therefore pleased to report that even before we completed our review, CDOT appeared to be taking steps to improve its management by conducting weekly reviews of data with multiple departments and utilizing trend analyses data, among other activities which I will let them speak to. In fact CDOT has been responsive to all of our suggestions which included,

  • routinely monitor violation data in order to ensure the program and equipment is working as intended and the program is meeting its safety objectives;
  • hold the vendor accountable to its contract with standardized and documented procedures; and
  • consider publishing enforcement data and program parameters and other documentation in the interests of transparency, accountability, and restoration of public confidence.

During the course of our review OIG also noted that, in early 2014, the City began accepting violations with recorded yellow or amber light times as low as 2.9 seconds. This change created confusion, misunderstanding, and suspicion with the public as well as the City’s Department of Administrative Hearings. In order to improve public confidence in the program we suggested that CDOT reject any yellow light time below its publicly stated 3.0 second standard, a practice that had been employed previously. Beyond that, we proposed publicly documenting the exact parameters of the citation range and justification. CDOT has since confirmed that it has permanently restored the hard three second cut off.

Specific Anomalies

Before concluding I would like to speak to the “spikes” identified by the Tribune. The passage of time and record maintenance makes it very difficult to identify the cause of historical anomalies. However, OIG’s review did rule out the following four potential causes of the anomalies identified by the Tribune:

  1. Traffic Count: Available data did not reflect significant increases in traffic count during the anomaly periods.
  2. RLC Violation Review Process: we saw no significant variation in the rate at which violations were issued or cleared by the vendor, such as might have been expected were there manipulations in the review process.
  3. Shortened Yellow Light Times: Available records and interviews did not support a conclusion that the City altered yellow light times to increase violation counts at the Tribune identified locations.
  4. Inconsistent Yellow Light Time: Differences in programmed signal times at a particular intersection corresponded to lane plans–for example a right turn lane versus a middle lane–and were consistent with standards and legal practices.

CDOT conducted an analysis of all intersections for other potential causes and presented those findings to OIG. We found the documentation sufficient to determine a cause at three intersections:

  • 119th and Halsted had a low trigger speed for almost two months, which resulted in 1,618 violations that otherwise would not have been issued.
  • Kimball-Lincoln-McCormick had a broken loop detector that was a long-term, reoccurring, issue and resulted in an estimated 45,444 violations going unrecorded.
  • Halsted-Fullerton-Lincoln had a damaged traffic signal for about two days, although there was a working signal present, the system recorded 33 violations during that period and only one on the day after the signal was repaired.

Closing

Prior administrators failed the City public through their neglectful management of the Red-Light Camera program. However, we are encouraged by CDOT’s response to our review, which we believe signals an awareness of and meaningful commitment to its program and contract management responsibilities going forward. The measures it has and continues to implement are significant steps forward in running the program effectively, in alignment with its stated public safety objectives, and in an accountable and transparent manner.