The red light cameras that are sweeping cities across the country are pretty much scams because the companies who sell them end up splitting the fines with the municipalities.

It’s really nothing but a shakedown between a private corporation and a government entity.

And sadly, most of us believe there’s nothing we can do about it.

However, one Photography is Not a Crime reader living in California has been doing his best to inform people that they do not have to pay these fines.

And naturally, he’s been harassed by police for doing so, including two occasions where he was ordered to stop videotaping (more on that later).

“These are not really tickets,” said Benjamin Bartholomew, who lives in Northern California. “They are ‘notice of traffic violations’.

“You don’t really have to pay it. You can just ignore it and they can’t do anything about it.”

Bartholomew refers to a website called Highway Robbery that goes into more detail in how citizens can protect themselves from these scams.

Essentially, if the notice of violation you receive does not contain the address of local courthouse on it, then it’s not a real ticket, according to the site.

I wish I would have known this last October when I received one of these notices because I surely would not have paid it.

But I did pay the $158 fine (plus a $4 “convenience fee”) because they sent me a photo with my car clearly running the red light. The license plate was visible, but not the driver.

However, the notice states the following:

“If you assert that the vehicle was in the care, custody or control of another person, you must provide the name, address, date of birth, and if known, the driver’s license number of the person who leased, rented or otherwise had care, custody or control of the vehicle at the time of violation.”

“We know people who have gotten them and they just throw them away and years go by and nothing happens to them,” Bartholomew said.

Intrigued, I dug up the notice of violation I received last year and sure enough, it specifically stated: “do not send payment or affidavit to the Clerk of the Court.  Payment or affidavit must be sent directly to the City of Coral Gables.”

However, the address listed for the City of Coral Gables is a P.O. Box in Tempe, Arizona – about 2,400 miles away from Coral Gables City Hall.

It turns out the main company that makes these machines, Redflex Traffic Systems, is based in Arizona, although it is not clear if they are the ones contracted with the City of Coral Gables.

I was still a little skeptical about just being able to ignore these notices and have them go away, so I contacted one of my attorneys, Arnold Trevilla, who specializes in DUIs and criminal law.

He said the notices are more like parking tickets than moving violations, which is how they can get around having the cop not making you sign the ticket.

“You may not have parked illegally but if you don’t pay it, your car is going to get a boot on it,” he said.

He said that ignoring the notice of violations would result in your license tag getting suspended. And if you decide to fight them, they turn into moving violations.

He said it’s cheaper to just pay them and acknowledges they’re just money-makers for the cities.

However, a recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel article states that the red-light cameras are not generating the millions the municipalities hoped they would and that the state legislature might just pull the plug on them.

I find that doubtful, but we’ll see.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, a news station discovered that 2,000 red light camera citations were signed by an officer who had been dead. The signatures were supposed to confirm that the photos were reviewed by an officer to determine that a violation did occur.

And in Tennessee, almost 200 citations were refunded when it was proven that the timing of the traffic light was off. The light would remain yellow for three seconds instead of the required four.

Anyway, back to Bartholomew.

A few weeks ago in Rocklin, California, he and his brother were standing on a street corner protesting these cameras. They were wearing Guy Fawkes masks and holding up signs.

“It was purely for political theater,” he said. “We walked to where the Redflex camera was and just stood underneath it. We weren’t jumping or yelling.”

After a few minutes, a man dressed in street clothes started yelling at them from the other side of a fence. Bartholomew and his brother walked over to him and met the man at a break in the fence.

The man never identified himself as a police officer, but ended up pulling their cell phones from their hands and patting them down for weapons.

They didn’t get video of the incident, but they did get audio, which can be heard here.

The unidentified man then berates them for wearing masks in front of a bank.

Bartholomew said the bank was on the other side of the fence and he had no idea it was there, but the brother removed their masks anyway to show they meant no harm.

The man then told him he confiscated their cell phones because they could have been guns.

“I should have insisted on getting his name and badge number, but I didn’t,” he said.

Bartholomew later reported the incident to the Rocklin Police Department, who said that was the first they heard of the incident.

In a prior incident, Bartholomew had an altercation with a uniformed officer from Marysville who lied to him on two occasions.

Here is how Bartholomew describes the lies on Youtube:

Cpl. Christopher Miller tells two clear and definitive lies in an attempt to gain what he wants, control and compliance.

The first lie is made around the 2:00 mark when he says that Fire Fighters get a special permit in order to walk into the street during their “Fill The Boot” fund raising, something that clearly causes danger to motorist. According to the local Governments of Marysville and Yuba City California, no such permit exists.

The second lie is made at the end of the video 3:45 mark when he tell us it is a lawful order to tell us to stop filming him. I comply with this lie only because I know I had an audio recording on a laniard still going and news reporters standing less then 20 feet away there, hopefully preventing them from using violence against us.

That video is below. And here is an article about their protests that made it in the Appeal-Democrat, their local newspaper.