The 6 Most Popular Crime Fighting Tactics (That Don't Work)

#3. Red Light Cameras Are Killing People

Nobody likes a red light camera when they get a ticket in the mail, but most people admit that the apparatus does serve a function in the grand scheme of things. After all, a lot of people take a "If a cop didn't see it, I didn't do it" approach to obeying traffic laws, so it helps to have the unblinking eye of the law standing guard at busy intersections to make sure people slow down and pay attention.

A lidless eye, wreathed in flame.

The cameras are effective as hell, too: The city of Los Angeles maintains that red light cameras have reduced accidents by 34 per-freaking-cent.

Reporter David Goldstein of CBS, however, thought that this claim carried the fragrant whiff of bullshit. He started asking around for the LAPD's data on the subject, only to be promptly stonewalled and charged $500 for the info.

"Meet us in the alley behind Chick-fil-A and bring your silly hat."

Goldstein coughed up the dough and found that the cops had a good reason for their uncooperativeness. The data differed slightly from the "Holy shit, like a third less accidents everywhere!" stance the city officially maintained -- in fact, accidents were actually up at 20 of the 32 intersections studied.

Turns out the LAPD's numbers only counted a reduction in crashes that were caused by people running red lights and getting side-reamed. They completely ignored the fresh epidemic of rear-end collisions caused by people slamming on their breaks to avoid a camera-issued ticket.

Totes worth it.

Studies of red light cameras in Melbourne, Australia and Virginia came up with similar findings. The Aussies concluded that red light cameras had "no demonstrated value," and the Virginia Transportation Research Council tied a 27 percent rise in accidents to the cameras. But the largest nail in the coffin comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They compared traffic fatalities in cities with and without red light camera (RLC) programs:

"... cities using RLCs had an estimated higher rate of red light running fatalities, specifically 25 percent, than cities that did not use RLCs in the period 'after' cameras were used."


Chris Phan
The Machine Uprising has officially begun.

This 25 percent increase in perished commuters is, naturally, completely unrelated to the $1 million in red light camera fines that even a small city can rack up annually. Equally coincidental is the fact that, like we've pointed out before, some cities have been caught decreasing the time of their yellow lights before installing red light cameras.

We guess it all makes sense, if you're a really hardened bureaucrat -- after all, a citizen could die in a crash any day, so the local government might as well liberate him from his excess cash while they still can.

#2. "Dry County" Laws Increase Drunk Driving


In the USA, Prohibition ended at the federal level in 1933, but there is nothing stopping individual counties from passing anti-alcohol ordinances. For the people who aren't really down with the whole liquor scene, these alcohol-free dry counties are a little slice of heaven. That is, if they can make it across the street without getting mowed down by rampant drunks.

Take Texas. The state currently has 22 dry counties, which you'd expect to have some of the lowest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the state, what with there being no alcohol available.

"I guess I'm a little like Jesus in that respect."

Instead, data indicates that these counties have more than three times the rate of fatalities as counties where booze is readily available.

The explanation is simple, when you really think about it. Dry county or not, there are always people who just can't answer no to the question: "Would you like to get wasted?" And if they can't get the sweet stuff from their home county, they'll damn well get it from the neighboring one. People in dry counties don't drink less per se -- they just drive farther to get drunk. And then they drive back home, completely sauced, muttering under their breath about stupid laws and stupid sober people upholding stupid dry counties. In that state of mind, it's easy to forget the concept of braking and, for that matter, steering.

"Shit, that baby stroller must be going like 90."

It's not just Texans, either. Journalists who studied 15 years of records in Kentucky found that their dry counties had far more DUI-related crashes than the "wet" ones. Arkansas, same story.

But hey, at least parents in those dry counties don't have to worry about their children drinking, right? Yeah, about that ... Turns out drug dealers don't have dry counties, and they're just happy that their product doesn't have to compete with alcohol. So, drug-related deaths and crime go up when alcohol is harder to get. It's almost like, we don't know, maybe kids are going to party regardless of what your stupid laws say.

"I could walk in a straight line, or I could do all the moves to 'Thriller.' Take your time."

#1. Capital Punishment Does Nothing to Reduce Violent Crime


First things first: We're not taking a stance here. When you're arguing about any kind of punishment, you're doing it from two sides: what actually works, and what is morally right. For instance, even if all of the data somehow showed that the best way to lower the rate of sexual assault is to give every rapist a shiny new car and a vacation to Barbados (it doesn't!), most of us would still oppose it. Even if it works, it's just wrong.

So if you're in favor of the death penalty, it's for two reasons: A) because justice says that killers deserve nothing less than death and B) because it will scare future killers away from killing anybody else, and lower the murder rate.

Studies show that less than 2 percent of executed prisoners become vengeful spirits and kill again.

You can argue the first one all day long, we don't pick a side there. But the second one simply isn't true, and science has the numbers to prove it. A 2000 New York Times special report found that as a deterrent that keeps people from committing violent crimes, capital punishment sucks like a black hole eating steak through a straw.

In fact, between 1980 and 2000, death penalty states have had average homicide rates between 48 percent and 101 percent higher than non-death penalty states. Murder rates in states with and without the death penalty tend to rise and fall at a relatively equal rate -- the presence of the death penalty makes no difference one way or the other.

"The guy is really sorry about this and would just like to move on from all those decapitated heads in the doorway."

It kind of makes sense; if the alternative to death is life in prison, then that particular murderer wasn't going to kill anybody else regardless of which punishment they got. It's not like, say, the difference between a harsh prison sentence and probation, where one of them at least takes the bad guy off the streets. Nobody is suggesting just letting the murderers go.

And as for the deterrent effect, the problem is that, except in rare cases, murder isn't one of those crimes somebody sits down and thinks through anyway -- if you're crazy or desperate enough to kill somebody, odds are you're not thinking about your own future in any kind of logical way. You could change the penalty to "death via having weasels eat your scrotum" and it's not going to make a difference to the enraged jealous husband chasing a man through his house with a shotgun. That's the thing; if criminals were rational enough to consider what the law says and then act logically based on a carefully considered calculation of risk versus reward, they wouldn't be criminals.

"Aw jeez, this is really going to look bad on my performance report."

Robert Evans is Cracked's head of article captions and also writes about doubt, bad cops and worse media. He can be reached at

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