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The KTVU Piece

On Nov. 3, 2011 KTVU aired a piece about Snitch Tickets, including interviews with Emeryville Police Chief Kenneth James and State Senator Joseph Simitian.  It was a good piece, but contained some information that could be misleading.  Here is the text of the piece, with's comments, in blue type and inside square brackets [  ].
Look below the box for a link to the video.

TV segment broadcast Nov. 3, 2011, by KTVU-2 San Francisco/Oakland

Title shown on screen:  Snitch tickets from red light cameras easily fought in court.

[You don't fight Snitch Tickets in court!  You ignore them, because they have not been filed with the court.]

Anchor Frank Somerville: Red light cameras are all over the Bay Area, and if you get caught you’ll be sent a very expensive ticket in the mail. But many of those tickets are something called a Snitch Ticket, and in tonight’s special report KTVU’s Tara Moriarty tells us that if you get one of those tickets, chances are you won’t have to pay anything.

Reporter Tara Moriarty:  (Showing t-bone crash footage) This is what can happen if you run a red light. It’s dangerous and can be deadly. Many of us push the yellow or make illegal turns, and these days it’s all caught on camera.

Motorist Stillwater:  They had a photo of my car which was definitely my car. You couldn’t see me driving it.

Reporter:  [Motorist] Stillwater got a ticket from a San Leandro camera. It looked real but it wasn’t.

Motorist Stillwater:  (Patting her chest over her heart) With fear and trembling, I didn’t pay the ticket.

State Senator Joseph Simitian (San Jose – Palo Alto):  People get a ticket or a Courtesy Notice as it’s called, and they’re told you have to fill this out or else you’re going to get the ticket.

[A Courtesy Notice is not the same as a Snitch Ticket.  A Courtesy Notice is a reminder, sent to you by the court, after a real ticket has been filed at the court.]

Reporter:  It’s commonly called a Snitch Ticket, with pictures, sometimes video, and a police notification. It looks official but you get it because the police can’t identify the driver and they want you to.

Attorney Sherry Gendelman:  They have no legal obligation whatsoever to turn in who was driving.

Reporter:  Sherry Gendelman is an attorney who specializes in traffic violations.

Attorney Gendelman: You only have to say it wasn’t me. You’re not there to do the work of the police. If they can’t identify the driver, they can’t convict you.

[Don't say "it wasn't me."  The correct response is NO response at all! ]

Reporter:  Legally, you can't get in trouble for not responding?

Emeryville Police Chief Kenneth James:  You cannot get in trouble for not responding.

Reporter:  Emeryville police say almost 40% of the red light camera tickets they send out are Snitch Tickets. A camera at 40th and Horton generates hundreds of red light violations a month. Many [most] on rolling right hand turns, or what is known as a California Stop.

Chief James:  Council felt that was an intersection where we wanted to use the camera as a slowing tactic there.

Reporter:  But it’s not an intersection with many injury accidents. An average of just one a year in the last six years, and no fatalities. And the camera company actually surveys the intersections and tells police where they can catch the most offenders.

Chief James:  Basically they’re saying we’re going to make money off that intersection if we put it there.

Reporter:  But that doesn’t bother Chief James.

Chief James:  It’s a half million dollars in fines that we would not normally have collected.

[Emeryville issued 2905 tickets worth an estimated $1.5 million  in fines, at 40th and Horton in the twelve months Oct. 2010 to Sep. 2011.  Chief James is too modest.]

Senator Simitian:  We know that too many communities are putting these up as a way to generate revenue rather than keeping people safe.

Reporter:  Senator Simitian authored a bill that would have required cities to clearly label a snitch ticket that can be confusingly similar to an actual one, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last month. The bill’s only opposition: The State Finance Department, which said that California stood to lose $140 million a year.

Senator Simitian:  I think money was part of the calculus here, and I think that’s too bad.

[See the critique of Sen. Simitian and his "reform" bill, SB 1303, in the 2012 Legislation section, on this site.]

Reporter, to Attorney Gendelman:  So $500 is just way too much?

Attorney Gendelman: It’s way too much for any individual to have to pay for a photo enforced ticket.

Reporter:  How can you tell if your ticket is real? Well, experts say, the key, it [a real ticket] will list a court address, and a court date. Some Snitch Tickets will say, “Do not contact the court,” on the back.

Chief James:  We get a lot of complaints on the excessiveness of the citations. Bottom line is, red lights mean stop.

Reporter:  But for [Stillwater], being asked to snitch on herself wasn’t worth the price.

Motorist Stillwater:  I don’t have the money to drop $400. [The fine is more like $500 to $600.]  I’m on Social Security.

Reporter:  Recently some cities decided to put the brakes on red light cameras altogether, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Burlingame. But with cameras still in dozens of California cities, motorists who get [something in the mail that looks like] a ticket should definitely check the fine print.

[In early 2011 San Bernardino attempted to end its program but was threatened with a $1.8 million penalty for early termination, so decided to continue the program.]

Reporter:  In Emeryville,Tara Moriarty for KTVU Channel 2 News.

Link to the KTVU Piece