published Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Cook: Cameras used as a scapegoat

This morning, after hearing from a very loud and angry public, the Hamilton County Commission is expected to vote down the sheriff's plan to let police officers use cameras from their patrol cars to ticket speeders.

They shouldn't.

It's a not a bad idea, and far worse ones have passed through this commission. Yet the larger issue is less about speeding cameras (although we'll get to them in a moment) and more about the techno-anxiety that's flooding our 21st century American lives.

These cameras? We made them a scapegoat.

"This is the straw that broke the camel's back. Everybody's fearful of NSA and government intrusion," Sheriff Jim Hammond said this week.

These cameras became our catharsis, a release as we play Goldlilocks in our modern quest to find -- not too heavy, not too light -- the right balance between human and machine.

Psychologically, we dumped all our fear and anger over the Digitized Eye of Big Brother onto this teeny tiny topic, like pinning all these extra tails on this one lowly donkey.

The NSA is spying on us. The government can read our emails. We've got hackers -- black hat, white hat -- andEd Snowden and emails that won't quit coming and Siri, who I wish would go back to wherever she came. There are cameras everywhere: on street corners, the ATM machine, rooftops and, most ubiquitously, the very phones we use for all our posts, Tweets and selfies.

So, in walks the sheriff, with a plan to put two -- two! -- new radar-photo guns in the hands of his officers. Those officers would use them in school zones to ticket moderate speeders in efficient ways: not by pulling them over, but by mailing them $50 tickets to their homes.

You would have thought the sheriff wanted to put them in your living room to watch you at night. (By the way, there's a TV that already does).

"I will make it a personal mission to unseat any official that would vote for this," said one reader.

"Sheriff Hammond must think the public are a bunch of submissive sheep," said another.

"Our commissioners and Sheriff Hammond need to do their jobs and it isn't sitting in your patrol car letting a computer do your job!" said a third.

The sheriff's plan would not earn him one cent. The money made from each $50 ticket would be split: half to the Nashville company that owns the cameras and half to the county.

Hammond asked that $12.50 be routed to fund a driver's education program for teens, an idea that is hugely needed and one that's now unfunded by the county.

"Haven't had one in years," Hammond said.

Next, the officers and their cameras would not sit in unmarked speed vans, but in their regular patrol cars, taking radar, as they've done for years. And if you're speeding -- 40 mph in a 30 zone -- the officer doesn't pull you over to write you a ticket, which then costs more in court costs and insurance premiums; rather, you open your mailbox a few days later and find a $50 ticket, which you either pay or challenge in court.

If the officer sees you speeding in egregious, dangerous ways -- 50 mph in a 30 -- they're going to blue light you, using the tried and true, face-to-face, "license and registration please" encounter they've done for decades.

"I wanted to use it in areas where we get most of our calls. Construction zones, school zones," said Hammond. "It was just two cameras."

You genuinely want to push back against all of this? Start calling our commissioners and tell them to talk about a real subject.


The day will come when drones will so populate our skies, we'll drool and beg for the controversy of two tiny cameras. Some cities have outlawed drone use; Virginia placed a two-year, state-wide moratorium on drone use by law enforcement, citing concerns over government surveillance and intrusion on individual liberties.

If enough citizens ask it, then our commissioners will surely have to formulate our county's drone policy, which is massively more important than two radar guns that take pictures. After all, they changed their camera vote because of you, and that means one thing:

They're listening.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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hotdiggity said...

Hey David, don't forget about the Obama/United Nations mind control program.

February 26, 2014 at 1:22 p.m.
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