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HPD sends “Pay your red light camera ticket or else” letter

With predictable results.

Houston police have notified 79,000 motorists that they cannot renew their vehicle registrations until they pay red light camera fines and penalties, even though Harris County officials repeatedly have said they will not prevent people from registering their vehicles because of the outstanding citations.

Police Chief Charles McClelland denied critics’ charges the Houston Police Department’s collection campaign relies on scare tactics, but he acknowledged HPD has no legal agreement to block registration of Harris County residents who owe red-light camera fines. He said that some of the red light violations were committed by residents in adjacent counties that are enforcing the registration holds.


At a news conference at HPD headquarters Thursday a sample warning letter distributed to reporters featured a warning across the top in large lettering.

“The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has placed a Hold on the registration renewal of this vehicle,“ the notice states. “Registration of this vehicle cannot be renewed until this past due fine is paid.’

That warning is true in counties where the Commissioners Court has agreed to block registrations or for those who attempt to renew their registration online through the state, but McClelland said it was not incumbent on HPD to inform motorists they still could register their vehicles in Harris County. He noted that tickets have been issued to vehicle owners in Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Montgomery counties.

Apparently, there’s some fine print on the back that says your local county tax assessor “may” refuse to register the vehicle. So it’s misleading and likely to fool people who don’t know that Harris County isn’t cooperating with Houston on this, but not a flat out lie. Not their finest moment, but at least there’s that. As you might imagine, camera opponents don’t much care for this.

City Councilman Mike Sullivan, an outspoken opponent of the cameras, said he found it “troubling” HPD sent out letters “stating a fact that is untrue.” He also questioned the document for having the appearance of being from HPD when it originated in Scotsdale, the home of ATS, the city contractor that installed the cameras at 70 intersections and administers the program.

“There is such a strong effort to collect a fine, that seems to be the primary message and focus of this notice,” Sullivan said. “It’s saying, ‘We’re going to tell you whatever we have to tell you to intimidate you to mail your fine in.’ They’re making their own rules and the public doesn’t know any better.”

With all due respect to CM Sullivan, the police lie to people all the time. It’s a widely accepted tactic for interrogations, with broad latitude being granted to detectives by the Supreme Court. I appreciate the concern – I certainly find a lot of this to be troubling – but if this bothers you, there’s a lot more where that came from.

And again, if the complaint is about the money, I reiterate my issues with that argument. I sympathize with the concerns about deception, but beyond that I find it difficult to feel sorry for the people who got these letters, especially since I know that if they ignore them, nothing will happen to them.

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  1. “the police lie to people all the time”

    Usually not in print.

  2. Ron in Houston says:

    The whole red light camera implementation keeps getting sleazier and sleazier.

  3. mary t. says:

    The law requires a driver stops at a red light. If the driver wishes to turn right, and it is allowed at the intersection, he or she may turn right after the stop (assuming it is safe to do so). I’m not sure what’s sleazy about issuing legitimate traffic citations if it makes streets safer for pedestrians and drivers. It would be great if people stopped at red lights and stop signs and drove posted speed limits (especially in active school zones) but it’s all too common to observe drivers ignoring passive traffic control devices like traffic lights and speed limits. Perhaps a fine is a jolt some drivers need to learn to pay attention while they drive.

    If the ticket is legitimate then it should be paid, and there have been instances cited–like the driver waved through a red light by a police officer–that show cases where the ticket was issued incorrectly. By and large though, I’ll bet it’s the inattentive or just plain arrogant driver who gets cited.

  4. brian says:

    so do i have to pay my b.s. red light cam. pic tic or not

  5. Joe G says:

    Mary T must work for the city. It’s been proven time and time again that these red light cameras cause more accidents because people are slamming on the brakes and getting rear ended. If they want to be safer and not just generate revenue, then make the yellow lights a little longer.

  6. stephanie revier says:

    Ok. I can answer these questions. I had two red light tickets from 2010, and registered my car in “harris co.” There was NO MENTION of these red light tickets. So, it is all b.s. and, by the way, my tickets were both right turn on red light tickets. “WINNING”