Are Police Tricking People Into Paying ‘Snitch’ Tickets?

By David Goldstein

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Are police tricking people into snitching on someone who goes through a red light camera intersection? That’s what some people are claiming police are doing by sending out snitch tickets.

Erin Chavez got caught by a red light camera —

But then claims she got caught by police who tricked her into confessing.

“You in essence, snitched on yourself?” I asked.

“I did snitch on myself. Yes.”

Chavez got this violation notice in the mail from Corona Police because she’s the registered owner of the car. With pictures and a badge number, it looked like an official ticket.

“I thought it was real.”

But it’s not. It’s what people are calling a snitch ticket.

Because her driver’s license photo shows her with long blonde hair — and the pictures behind the wheel show a woman with short dark hair — police probably couldn’t identify her. That’s where the snitch ticket comes in. It says you must complete this information. Asking for the driver’s name and license number.

“There was some terminolgy in there where I felt like if I had not responded I would have gotten into serious trouble.”

And it looks legit.

It’s called Traffic Violation Notice. The real ticket says Notice Of Traffic Violation.

But legally, you don’t have to answer the snitch ticket.

Erin did.

“I felt swindled. I was extremely upset that I’d essentially turned myself in when I didn’t have to.”

According to California law, police must positively identify the picture taken by the red light camera with someone’s driver’s license photo. If they can’t, most departments just throw the tickets out. But some cities, like here in Corona, and Riverside, send these tickets hoping to snitch out the violator.

Matt Irving also received a snitch ticket from the Riverside police.

“I thought it was a ticket. I definitely thought it was a ticket.”

The cameras caught a woman behind the wheel of his car not making a full stop before making a right on red. He doesn’t want to say who it is — because he just ignored the notice.

“That’s definitely sneaky and underhanded. Trying to get you to tell on someone and make it look real official.”

“It’s unethical,” to hear traffic attorney Sherman Ellison tell it.

“Do police have the right to mandate that police snitch on another person and the answer is ‘no.'”

Legally, can anything happen to the person if they ignore it?

“Legally, no.”

Corona Police Sargeant John Marshall, who runs the red light program, admits the notices carry no weight.

He reviews the violations captured by the cameras —

“Some of this stuff is unbelievable.”

— And says the so called snitch tickets are a way to hold people accountable.

“If people don’t want to get these tickets, simply come to a complete stop at the red light and we won’t have this issue at all.”

But some do take issue. Like State Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto.

“My bill specifically prohibits so called snitch tickets.”

His legislation would let people know their options.

“If you’re going to ask someone to identify someone in the photograph you have to tell them they’re not obliged to do that and that they can’t be punished.”

Right now at least 40 cities in California use the snitch tickets. The way to tell the difference is a real ticket will have a notice to appear…a court date and a location. The snitch tickets don’t.

What’s the lesson to be learned here? Don’t snitch on yourself. Keep your mouth shut.

But if you want to avoid it all, just obey the law.

The following cities have snitch ticket programs.

  • Bakersfield
  • Corona
  • Daly City
  • Del Mar
  • El Cajon
  • Elk Grove
  • Emeryville
  • Encinitas
  • Escondido
  • Garden Grove
  • Gardena
  • Glendale
  • Hawthorne
  • Hayward
  • Inglewood
  • Laguna Woods
  • Loma Linda
  • Los Alamitos
  • Marysville
  • Menlo Park
  • Millbrae
  • Modesto
  • Newark
  • Oceanside
  • Poway
  • Redding
  • Riverside
  • Rocklin
  • San Jose
  • San Leandro
  • San Mateo
  • Santa Ana
  • Santa Clarita
  • Solana Beach
  • South Gate
  • South San Francisco
  • Stockton
  • Union City
  • Victorville
  • Vista


    • Loni

      You are an idiot.

    • Lee

      Alex— Learn what a red light violation actually is before you post. If you’re already in the intersection and the light turns red, it’s not a violation.

      • framitz

        Any part of the vehicle in the intersection when the light turns red is a VIOLATION. I know because it cost me $274 plus traffic school when the rear 1/4 of my car wasn’t clear when it went red.

    • HenryH

      The website is highwayrobbery.NET not com

  • Murdock

    The moral of this story… Drive somebody elses car, run all the lights you want, get involved in a hit and run accident- hurting somebody and not be held accountable because the owner doesn’t have to “snitch” you off. They should make all red light violations the owners responsibility, with the option of identifying the driver. Otherwise, it’s on the owner. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS OR MAKE THOSE WHO DO RUN RED LIGHT LAWS RESPONSIBLE!

    • Not newsworthy

      Murdock You my friend wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the wall

      • hollie kabler

        haha so true…

    • Useyour Head

      “They should make all red light violations the owners responsibility”…Are you kidding me? Lets look at it another way: someone kills someone with a gun that you own – charge you with murder?

    • Greg Prete

      You’re spot on, Murdock. Well written.

    • Dockmer

      We can’t have laws that apply moving violations to people who weren’t in the vicinity. That would be bad enough, but to suggest that police should be able to use such a system to coerce people into tattling on each other is just plain idiotic. Think about the legal precedent there and the potential for abuse.

    • Homeland

      You say this things because you ride a bicycle.

      • Christian

        They obviously didn’t teach you how to spell in that one-room schoolhouse you attended.

    • Scott O

      No one ever suggested getting away with hit-and-run. Issuing a violation to a person not present would run counter to all law and tradition in the U.S., where evidence of a crime is required. That is what the “snitch” ticket does is collect the evidence (in this case, testimony) required. It’s done in a deplorably deceptive way, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from a virtually bankrupt government.

    • Bifg Mike

      U must be a cop! Are you serious? How about we call the A-Team…Murdock

      • chad

        ya murdoc works for the dmv of parking enforcement …

    • swell

      What happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty? These traffic cameras and, frankly, most traffic tickets violate your civil rights. But we’re lemmings who just do what we’re told by the big guys in uniforms.

  • Eddie

    I think you can add Rancho Cucamonga to the list

  • Jessica

    Let’s stop beating around the bush – the next time you go through an intersection where you believe the light might turn red and you might get that flash all you have to do to get the ticket thrown out in court 100% of the time is to just lift your entire head as far up into the roof of your car that you can for just about 2 seconds. This is what a friend of mine who is a lawyer taught me and it works every time. I have gotten 4 red light camera tickets thrown out in court in the past 2 years doing this =) Point being, they MUST have a CLEAR view of your face in the picture…if they don’t all you have to tell the judge is…”not guilty, wrong defendant”. So before that picture is taken there are a lot of ways you can hide your head for about 2 seconds. There have even been times when I notice no car is in front of me and I just duck down into my seat for those few seconds when I pass the intersection I start laughing because when they review the picture they will only have a picture of my steering wheel. Or cover head head with your t-shirt…lol…this is free legal and accurate advise people…just being totally honest.

    • notlovinLA

      And how do you go about concealing your license plate, my dear? Some of these camers take pictures from different angles- a close-up of your windshield and face, a rear shot of your vehicle and plate, a side shot of your entire vehicle. Why not just drive according to the laws of the road and not be a complete and total LOSER and JACKAL on the road?! You seriously need to grow up, Jessica.

      • Not newsworthy

        Shut up you don’t love LA anyway so do us all a favor and check out to Kentucky or something

    • Mike

      Geez, another idiot driver on the road running red lights (all of the time by the way it sounds), and they actually gave you a driver’s license?

      • david sanders

        Haha…and she makes it even more dangerous by taking her eyes off the road by lifting or ducking her head. What a great attitude to have and what a wonderful role model she will become

    • Lee

      Jessica, Please let us all know what part of town you live in and what kind of car you drive, so the rest of us sane drivers can stay clear of you when you’re ducking down in your car running red lights.

    • Murdock

      You must be proud of yourself Jessica. I’d like to think you were kidding, but by the content of your comments you sound like a real menace on the road.

    • Homeland


      Thanks for the info. LOL

    • PL

      You should just flash your boobs!

    • Prudent

      How do they ID motorcyclists with full face masks on? Can I drive with a ski mask on? Well, thanks Becky – just don’t do this for sport, ok? Try pulling down the sun visor? You may have a better view of the road while avoiding your picture, and keep everybody else safe – especially pedestrians and bicyclists – the ones who would be most vulnerable with your lawyer friends’ scheme… :-D

  • Rich

    Good job Jessica make sure you down some booze too while your at it, you idiot.
    Next time you renew your license please make sure you check the box next to
    have you had any blackouts or seizures while driving YES.
    That would be an easy way to get you off the road, I truly pray that you
    are just joking.

  • Ricco - West Hollywood

    Go to the web site for detailed information on the truth about beating these tickets.The system is rigged. A San Diego judge shut down the system there when the private company running the show was caught cheating the radar location.

    • Gene G.

      Been there, done that. Those defenses only ticked off the judge and the officer was prepared for them. Luck I still got traffic school.

  • Justin

    Enough about beating on Jessica above.

    Lets bring the debate back to the reason for these cameras to exist. Law enforcement officials will tell you that the cameras are placed at the most dangerous intersections to prevent T-bone accidents, the most deadly collisions of all.

    David Goldstein’s original red light camera report back in 2003 included a smoking gun memo saying that the company controlling the cameras rejected most of the intersections proposed by the LAPD. The reason? They weren’t going to make enough money at those locations. So here’s something more substantial to discuss: are the RL cameras there to make money or save lives?

    BTW, 2 state laws were changed in how the cameras are regulated because of Goldstein’s original report.

    • James

      Let’s say the cameras are money scam… The fact of the matter is there are too many drivers running red lights, which makes it a lucrative business. The key point is drivers are running these lights, endangering the rest of us and funding the whole process. No red light running, no money to be made and they go away. But as long as people are in a rush to get to where they’re going, trying to beat the light or just considering the yellow light as an extension of the green light drivers are going to run them. I’ve got no problem with red light cameras, just as long as they are being funded off the backs of the violators and not the tax payers.

  • Tweets that mention Goldstein Investigation: Are Police Tricking People Into Paying ‘Snitch’ Tickets? « CBS Los Angeles --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ChooseyBeggar, Marilyn Morehouse and Michael Jue, Rose Z. Rose Z said: Drivers in Cali […]

  • Mufon

    Snitch ticket? Nice moniker, Goldstein think that up himself, or is it the legal term? Slow news week, I take it. I guess Egypt unrest wasn’t quite enough to work on.

  • A Practical Approach

    I think we should re-educate people who are chronic graffiti addicts to target the lenses of these cameras… :-D or maybe fill a super-soaker with an opaque liquid? ;-) Anybody got some old eggs or fruit they don’t know what to do with? There are always alternatives…. :-0

  • Mark

    What ever happened to taking some personal responsibility? Erin Chavez is whining that she had to confess when she didn’t have to. Let me get this straight, she blows through a red light, but because she changed her hair style, the police can’t match her photo. So they send a form to verify that she was driving. Hey Erin, stop your crying and grow up! Character means doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. A concept that seems to be lost in society today.

    • Not newsworthy

      You are missing the whole point of the American legal system, I don’t know about you but I know my rights, read up on yours.

    • Mike D.

      Shouldn’t “character” go both ways? Two wheels rolling a couple feet into the cross and a complete stop before a right turn is not “blowing through” a red light. Are our laws to protect and serve or to generate easy income for crooks?

  • Lee Smith

    Suppose they were straight and sent you a notice that said: “Your car was photographed violating the traffic laws. We cannot ascertain you were driving it at the time. please sign the following admission of guilt sand we will send you a $400 traffic citation”. Discuss among yourselves, or forward to the ethics column..

  • Red light camera info

    […] […]

  • Tony Gonzales

    Can one of these snitch tickets legaly become a warrant if i chose not to respond? If so would i have a leg to stand on in court?

  • Ric Postlewait

    I got a red light ticket for a left turn, plead guilty, the person in front of me went halfway through and stopped, waited then proceeded and the the camera went off SEEMS LIKE HE KNEW

  • Loni

    So is goldstien trying to tell people to be dishonest? SMH another reporter with an Agenda.

    He should be ashamed for promoting pushing people to be untruthful.

  • tam

    no, he should be proud for bringing attention to how corrupt our officials really are. Who cares what he’s suggesting anyway? Do you normally take the advice of reporters? didn’t think so.

  • Bob

    The red light cameras have nothing to do with safety, they are designed to raise revenue. First the snitch tickets (yes, that is what they are called) are NOT there to gather evidence. They are to make people think they have received a legitimate citation. That’s fraudulent. Legally, a citation is a release on your written promise to appear. California law REQUIRES that each citation have in bold type “NOTICE TO APPEAR”, provide the name and address of the court and a date to appear. Further, as to taking responsibility for their actions, the government has a Constitutional mandate under the Sixth Amendment to presume the person innocent until the government proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and – under the Fifth Amendment – without your confession or statement. Put a real cop at the intersection and you seldom have these problems – but it isn’t as profitable.
    Most people do accept responsibility for their actions; statistically most people given a ticket plead guilty. But they also expect the government to play by the rules and the history of red lights cameras have many instances of shortening the time, resetting cameras improperly and other areas of improper conduct. Giving a person a cite for a red light violation not only costs the person over $450 (in LA County) but also goes on the driving record, possibly impacting their insurance costs.
    As to my qualifications to speak my mind, I was a cop for 28 years,I have been a practicing lawyer for over ten years, a JAG officer and have taught law to Administration of Justice students for 13 years. I expect my students to have ethics, be honest AND to take responsibility for their actions.

    • PS

      Beverly Hills sends out a “Notice of Traffic Violation”, an options page with only the choices to name someone else. I assume this is a snitch ticket. How do you respond to it? I was not the driver of the car and am not in the picture. Please advise

  • Henrey

    Aside from $$$, here’s 2 reasons politicians OK the cameras:

    1. They think we like the cameras!
    There’s Astroturf Lobbying by the camera Industry. (Google Rynski and Astroturf.) Their PR firms are manufacturing a fake grassroots movement via comments they post on news articles like this one. The politicians read the web, assume the pro-cam comments represent genuine public support, so they vote to install cameras.

    2. Politicians – and their extended family – are immune to the tickets.
    In California 1.5 million privately-owned cars have plates protected from easy look up, effectively invisible to agencies trying to process camera violations. The “protected” list includes politicians, bureaucrats, their families, and ADULT children! Unbelievable? Read Cal Veh Code 1808.4. If you think this is unfair, call your local state legislators and ask them to support AB 3 by Assemblyman Jeff Miller. (For comparison, the State of IL has only 5867 cars on its protected list, and TX has 18,323.)

  • Art

    Isn’t snitching on yourself also lnown as “tellong the truth”?

  • Cameracop

    The camera goes on sharp when you go over 15 mph while approaching the intersection. It is then assumed that you won’t stop in time. When the camera lights flash, hit the brakes hard, stop and wait for the green light. There will be no case against you, and ticket reviewers will let it go. 15 mph is the key.
    (I hate that this Arizona company is messen with us).


    We are long over due to remove these cameras . Go slow, speed up do what you have to so you don’t get caught in a intersection. It sounds like a recipe for a potential accident. And as far as revenue these cities will neveer be happy. There will never be enough revenue to satisfy these cities.

  • Thao

    What can I do when a shirif from Temple City of CA beat me up and accuse me for DUI? I want to press charges again him but I don’t have any witness and no money for the lawyer??? Please help me to put these policeman behind bar for taking advantage of authority.

  • Tim Hickey

    hi, in Australia they police have the right to send a ticket to the owner of the vehicle. If you weren’t driving then you have to nominate the driver, otherwise you have to pay the fine.

  • kb

    you have the right to remain silent
    anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law
    police also have the authority to lie to you to get whatever evidence they need

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