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City Thuggery: Florida Supreme Court Should Ban Red-Light Spy-and-Snap Traffic Cameras

| December 30, 2012

red light cameras traffic fines florida supreme court

Extortion ahead. (© FlaglerLive)

There are almost 1,000 red-light cameras snooping and snapping at intersections across Florida. They are the robotic spies of cities too cheap to hire cops to police their traffic and too deceitful to admit that the cameras have one overriding purpose: to make money by ringing up as many citations as possible.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive Sometime in 2013, the Florida Supreme Court will decide whether the installation of spy cameras before July 2010 was legal. That was the year the Florida Legislature passed a law allowing local governments to install cameras. The law also strictly regulated the system with a universal $158 fine, more than half of which is due the state, and the right of those cited to appear before a traffic court magistrate.

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For three years before that, many city governments across the state, including Palm Coast, circumvented Florida’s prohibition on traffic cameras with a clever scheme. They’d installed them as code enforcement devices, essentially turning their code enforcement departments—the same departments that check the length of your grass and your dog’s barking decibels—into de facto police departments. Cities did so in alliance with private companies that ran the cameras. The fine amounts were all over the place, and were split between the companies and the local governments. The accused either paid up or contested the citation before a hired gun at city hall, paid by city hall, who naturally favored city hall’s cash-cow scheme. (Palm Coast of course is filing a brief in the Supreme Court case in defense of the cameras, because if the court were to declare the pre-2010 scheme illegal, it could also require the reimbursement of fines levied illegally.)

The new law cleans up some of the thuggery, legalizing it by ensuring that state coffers are on the take. But it does not address the fundamental problems with spy-and-snap cameras. There are innumerable reasons to ban them. There’s only one reason to keep them, and it’s a slimy one: money. Palm Coast proved it when, faced with dwindling revenue from the cameras after the state regulated them, the city discovered that the only way to make them pay was to sprout them at every possible intersection and rewrite the contract with the spy-camera company to ensure a guaranteed $700 per camera per month. The city is on pace to have 52 cameras, netting it more than $300,000 a year. And still, when confronted with either public or county government discontent about the cameras, or shoddy evidence in support of their use, city council members parrot the old lines about “safety.”

What few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the cameras, including the most comprehensive one by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, show either scant or contradictory safety improvements. T-bone crashes decline, but rear-end crashes increase. The net effect is not better than if, say, the duration of yellow lights were lengthened. Needless to say, the Palm Coast City Council has never once conducted its own study. It has never analyzed crash statistics at intersections, because those statistics don’t exist in any one database. But it’s done an excellent job resting city policy and fine-slapping on its flat-earth method of choice: anecdotal evidence. Money, of course, always talks louder than evidence.

It doesn’t stop there. The cameras are intrusive. True, no one has a presumption of privacy on public streets. That doesn’t equate to a state presumption of permanent snooping, which cameras enable. Policing should not be synonymous with surveillance. And the policing isn’t even done by professionals: the cameras are still mostly under the control of city code enforcement departments, and run by profit-seeking private companies such as American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that runs Palm Coast’s system. And the accused, judged guilty until proven innocent, can never face their accuser. That’s some of the reasons law enforcement officials detest the cameras. Matters of judgment, safety and common sense, to say nothing of fundamental constitutional principle, are replaced by the rigged-up rationales of profit-seeking at drivers’ expense.

The duplicity of local governments and their camera accomplices is inescapable. They can only keep the scheme in place if the cameras make money. The cameras can only make money by catching a large volume of red-light runners. The system thrives on the very violations it claims to be curbing, an implicit admission that a certain level of red-light running will continue whether spy cameras are in place or not (just as burglars will continue to exist whether doors are locked or not). The difference is this: by gridding intersections with spy cameras, as many cities are doing, local governments are adopting the methods of the extortionist police state. Every driver is a potential target for ransom, every intersection is as hazardous as dark alleys, with our local governments as remote-controlled predators.

The case before the Florida Supreme Court is narrowly tailored to the pre-2010 schemes, so there’s little chance that the court might decide whether spy-and-snap cameras as state law appropriated them are legal at all. That’s a shame, because the legitimacy of traffic cameras is as suspect as their effectiveness, and as constitutionally corrupt as the cash cows they’re made of.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter. This column is also syndicated through Florida Voices.

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40 Responses for “City Thuggery: Florida Supreme Court Should Ban Red-Light Spy-and-Snap Traffic Cameras”

  1. PJ says:

    The cameras are intrusive. They don’t protect us from get injured. This just a scam to rip us off. The cameras ruin the quality of life because of the worry you may have getting caught. For many people the fne could be the difference of putting food on the table or gas in your car to get to work.

    “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” simply we have an over paid city manager who really is a poor manager. He rather nickle and dime us for his lack of managing the departments and the city. So he hits us with the fees. The Waste Pro fee, the storm water fee, the utility fee even the cable company and FPL has a fee that has likely doubled since he got the job.

    The sad part is Palm Coast spends money on a legal brief ! WHY? The courts will hear the case and clean up the rules so the people that can’t manage their city can fee the rest of us.

    Here is the question ?

    Do we want to live here in Palm Coast with this mismanagement?
    Get out and vote change the council, and mayor so that a good board may make a change like the worst city manager of all time.

    Pretty sad state of affairs in Palm Coast…………………………..

  2. tulip says:

    It would be extremely costly to hire cops to stand by intersections to catch the red light runners. They would be paid an annual salary, medical, more vehicles, etc. and that certainly cost a whole lot more than what it cost to rent the cameras. Not only that if the cop car can’t get out into traffic quick enough, the violater is long gone. I used to see that years ago. Cop car sitting on side of road, speeder goes by, cop car caught in traffic. Also, if the cop has stopped the violater and writing a ticket how many red light runners got away with it. PLUS if the driver gets a ticket from a cop it means points on their insurance. If it’s a camera that gets you there are no points on insurance.

    There was an article in the paper the other day that Flagler County traffic deaths are down 43%, Volusia up 14%, although it seems we’ve had several fatal accidents here lately.

    I do not understand what people have against the cameras and it leads me to believe that they are the ones that don’t always obey the rules. Every time I see one of those opaque things over someone’s license plate, this tells me that they choose to break the law. If someone other than the owner is driving a car that runs a light, then perhaps that person should not be allowed to drive it and also pay the fine.

    Despite the amount of accidents we have, I firmly believe it would be much worse. I’ve lived here before the cameras and driving around town at that time was unnerving and that was when the population was a lot smaller.

    For those who think they were installed to make money—-believe what you want. The money from fines goes to roads, safety and other things. Let the violaters contribute to that fund and us honest taxpayers will pay less. Also, these cameras have also showed who was at fault in some of the accidents.

    Drivers need to learn that when approaching the YELLOW light , it means be prepared to stop NOT speed up. Drivers also need to learn to pay attention to the car in front of them and not tailgate, which causes fender benders, not the light turning yellow.

    No one seems to mind that they are “watched” in banks, stores, parking lots, some recreation areas,etc. Why should they mind a camera at an intersection. If a person is obeying the law, all is well.

    Perhaps the red light cameras may have prevented someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife from being hurt or killed because the driver decided to obey the law rather than pay the fine.

    • Mokie MudPie says:

      OK Mr Boy Scott / Ms Girl Scott
      When I am at the bank or the stores, they are not charging me $158. They are there for the protection of the employees and the customers. The traffic cameras are there to line the pockets of the City of Palm Coast. If they knew how to cut spending and work effectively they would not need the extra income.

      • some guy says:

        Niether the Bank nor the red light cameras Charge you a dime. They are there to first deter a crime next they help catch the person involved in a crime. Or code violation.

    • Ben Dover says:

      @tulip , I have been here since the roads in Palm Coast were dirt, there was never , nor is there now a problem with people running red lights , of course it happens accidentally from time to time when someone uses bad judgment and tries to get through one instead of stopping , its called an accident, and they are still happening even with the camera`s . The problem here is they first put them in illegally , duped people into paying tickets they did not need to pay. Secondly they`ve rigged the lights, they are trying to make you run them to generate revenue, Its sneaky as hell and down right dangerous, not only have they fixed it so the lights are longer , and you get stuck at everyone, but they shortened the time it stays yellow , and that flies straight in the face of the safety argument they keep trying to fool us with .As he said in the article they are also stepping all over our privacy rights. Then there`s the fact the camera has no idea who was driving the car, how can you ticket a object that any number of people could be using. And if your still dumb enough to believe its not about them trying to rip off the citizens of Palm Coast Coast, they are adding 42 more camera`s to up their take. They are being, very sneaky , very greedy , and also wasting a lot of our time and gas, not to mention flat out lying to you and everyone else in this town , I don t have any of these tickets , and I would never pay one if I got it, the point of this article and my letter is to point out all of the dirty tricks they are pulling and your civil rights they are stripping us of, these are the same sneaky little tactic`s Hitler used to strip the German people of they rights , to get them to conform , see things his way, turned his country into a police state, then did the unimaginable …………don t be a lamb led to the slaughter , be a free thinker, a lot of brave men and women fought for the rights you are so eagerly giving up by just going along with what the counsel tells you, they should be fired , but at the very least , very very ashamed of themselves.

    • Anonymous says:

      citizen of Palm Coast

      Some people just don’t get it. This is not about being a safe driver. Safe drivers will continue to be safe with or without those camera’s.This is about causing people /citizens/tax payers of this city to to have their rights violated every time they need to commute anywhere in the city.Every driver in this city has an uneasy feeling as they drive in fear of a camera click ,which dips deep and their pockets for the City’s profit.These camera’s have got to go!! I see more broken glass from intersection accidents than ever before.For those citizens who support this scam , just donate your own money to the city , I am sure they will take it with open arms, leave the rest of us out of this bull!

  3. Ben Dover says:

    Very well said , the only points you missed were the fact that they rigged the lights to make you get stuck at each and every one, they want you late and in a hurry so you try and beat the next one , because some of them are over 4 minutes long which is insane, I love my jeep cherokee ,but its only bad point is its a gas guzzler and I`m spending twice as much in gas now with the lights rigged this way , unfortunately my girlfriend lives in Woodlands and I`m in Pine Lakes, so I can take the long way around and avoid palm Coast Parkway I`ll only get stuck at 4 lights that way but add over a mile to my trip , or I can get stuck at 8or 9 lights going other way , either way my fuse is getting short , one day I will have to take it up with one of these thieving crooks face to face , and I can tell you it won t be painful for me, they need to put the timers on lights back the way it should be so traffic flows, or else enough is enough

  4. Whodat says:

    These lights are overkill. We should be all outraged. There should be an investigation as to why and who decided fifty two (52) lights should be put up for safety or money. Why should slick Rick or any Governor be allowed these highwayman tactics of reaching deep into our pockets for $158 a clip. It makes no difference that the City of Palm Coast receives pennies on the dollar, it’s the audacity of how we were hoodwinked. This has nothing to do with being a right-to-work State but everything to do with hiring a police officer. You, the Palm Coast citizen, is being denied reasonable protection from a bonefide law enforcement officer.

    The citizens of Palm Coast should be allowed to decide by referendum if we want Red Light Cameras in our City. Why haven’t they been extended outside the City to parts of Flagler County – why not U S 1 and Route 100? Why has the City been singled out and not the rest of the County? I find the placement of these Red Lights in Palm Coast more not less discriminatory because they are capricious and arbitrary. There is no forethought or justification and red lights were placed impulsively, on a whim and, and unpredictable.

    This strong arm tactics by the State of Florida has been going on in other ways that negates the safety of the driving public in the name of safety. Take for instance the Department of Transportation Weigh Stations. Many years ago I read the DOT in conjunction with a private company allowed Carriers of Trucking Companies to bypass the weigh scales on I95. When passing the Weigh Station on I95 you will see a bar going across the highway with a scanner on it for the North and South bound lanes.. This scanner records each truck that has a device which is recorded by this scanner. This program was set up to allow certain companies to bypass the weigh station for which the State receives $1 each time a truck is recorded.

    So, this allows trucking companies to be on their Boy Scout Honor to be overweight. But, more importantly, places the riding public at peril with overweight trucks. The State has circumvented safety of the riding public for $1 a truck rather than your safety. The State could care less about red light runners but more about big bucks to state coffers.

    • Just a thought says:

      Some parts of your rant are very easily explained if you just did very little research. No investigation is needed. Your City Manager and City Council decided on fifty two (52) cameras. A city police force has been discussed many times and always deemed too expensive to start one up from scratch. The cameras have not been extended outside the city because the city has no jurisdiction.

      As far as the DOT, well, I don’t know enough about that to comment.

  5. Devin Albin says:

    I have been awaiting the hammer to strike down these illegal ticking agents

  6. Deep South says:

    Can’t wait for Palm Coast to to reimbursed me for my fine. My truck was snapped about 2 years ago, and nobody in my household can remember who was driving the truck when it was snapped. The weekend of the incident I had about 10 family members staying in my house for the wedding of my youngest daughter, and my truck was being used by family members to go to the airport, and run errands. Dang, i f only my truck could talk ! I think the dog was driving, but I’m not sure.

  7. Yellowstone says:

    The city needs to add an electronic sign up near the traffic light:

    “This traffic control signal has grossed the city $1,400 this week. Thanks for your donations”

  8. NortonSmitty says:

    Yea, this is just terrible and undeniably un-American. Or it used to be. Today, it is what we have allowed America to become. It is a shining beacon of 21st Century capitalism. A privately held company called American Traffic Solutions which is owned by a privately held company called TransCore LP which is owned by KRG Capital Partners out of Denver and on and on…

    Oh, where was I? Oh yea, a politically connected investment firm found a way to generate millions of dollars by basically bribing local officials across the country to install these quasi-legal cameras that will generate revenue they can distribute and control at their own benefit by allowing this firm to split the graft generated by breaking it off up our bewildered asses with no recourse. This is the short version, but it covers the basics.

    But it is finally starting to piss off the sheep. Probably because it is something that is being shoved in all our faces every day. And unlike the other Privatizations of everything from prisons to parking meters, this one is blatant enough that even the most complacent among us see the unfairness, hypocrisy and greed driving this in spite of the usual chorus of “It’s to protect us all”.

    This is good that we’re getting pissed at injustice. Now maybe we should get pissed at this:

    And while you’re dander is up, ask yourself why we had to read this in a British newspaper and why no American media outlet had the stones to print it on the front page. We are so lucky to see it here at Flagler Live.

  9. DWFerg says:

    What about cameras as surveillance in potential crime areas.Retail Stores, gas station pay areas, Vegas, on streets in London(terrorists threats), New York City, etc .Is this Big Brother ? or good deterrents to crime ??—The worldwide trend is for more security—-How about in schools ? movie theaters ?-airports— Have we had problems in these venues lately ?– Do people routinely break laws ?- How does one ensure civilized behavior ? Let us find the grand SOLUTION to society’s ills ? Can Government be the answer for Anything ?- Does Flagler Live have answers ? Happy to have answers …..

  10. Duke says:

    Who brought this concept to Palm Coast? Who continues to back it? Who wants these cameras here?

  11. Dave S says:

    I believe the timing of the lights is designed to increase revenue, not safety. The yellow light is very short. Often, I have to slam on the brakes and come to an emergency stop. It appears that the timing of the lights is such that if you can stop, even if a panic stop, you must in order to avoid a citation. I would much rather approach any light now while it is already red, knowing that I have to come to a complete stop, rather than approach while it might turn red just before I enter the intersection. When it is green, I find myself inadvertently slowing down because I have taken my foot off of the accelerator pedal and have moved it in position to slam on the brakes. Adding just one second to the yellow light, it seems, would be enough time to stop without making a panic stop. But that would probably cost the city more of the percentage of the fee they collect from the motorist that would be shared with the company that runs the cameras.

  12. downinthelab says:

    There is a really cool product called “nophoto” that might be worth investing in….

    It’s a frame for your plate that blocks the flash with even more light, causes your license plate to be overexposed.

  13. palm coast is home says:

    I think the cameras are a good idea. I too, remember vividly what driving around PC was like before the cameras. I was overly cautious at intersections because of so many near misses. Others would beep at me the instant the light turned green. Anxious, angry … scary!

    Yes, I got a ticket and I deserved it and paid it. Now, I am more careful and make a much more constant attempt at staying the speed limit, so when the light turns yellow I have plenty of time to stop and not “slam on my brakes”.

  14. biker says:

    Don’t run red lights and you have nothing to fear .r
    run red lights and put our residents at risk’ and you should be fined. Don’t like the fact that you cannot run red lights in PC? Then please don’t drive through our city. Easy enough Right?

  15. Deep North says:

    Ah, Once Upon a Time in Little Palm Coast, where the city will snag your pockets with its red light cameras and its inefficient bureaucratic government. Much like a show.

  16. blondee says:

    PJ says “The cameras ruin the quality of life because of the worry you may have getting caught.”.

    I say: Why would one need to worry about getting “caught” if you’re not doing anything you shouldn’t be.

  17. Anon says:

    This city: is strapped for cash, continues to raise real estate property taxes each year, increased the cost of water service, makes bad strategic decisions, overpays it senior management, overpays its city manager .

    If anyone even begins to think that the town council will kill the golden goose that grosses over 300K per year and growing kindly think again.

    Oh by the way.
    The city of Deltona, population 85,000, is on the verge of bringing business to its city that will create approximately 1000 jobs. And its city manager does not make $200,000 per year.

    What is Palm Coast’s high priced city manager doing?

  18. says:

    i have been told that the code enforcement officers are the ones that review the video footage of all the violations and are the ones that decide if a violation does exist. i have also been told that they are all retired police officers and that they have to review the videos so many hours a week aside from their duties as code enforcement officers in the neighborhoods.

  19. Over it says:

    I am a registered voter, I own my home, I am also a life-long resident of Flagler County. I live in Palm Coast, (regretfully). Years ago, this was a nice place,. Now,.Our law Enforcement is failing us, rising taxes, foreclosure, grow houses,burgulary,home invasion, meth labs,drug use, lack luster schooling, perverts at the beaches and parks, vagrancy, gang activity (yes, Its here)……and now cameras to keep an eye on you.

  20. tulip says:

    @ Over it— You posted meth labs, home invasions, burglaries, drugs, etc. and now cameras to watch us. I think the reasons you posted are very good reasons to have cameras. Add to that list, shoplifting, hit and run accidents. People break the laws while driving and hurt or kill others, that’s why trafffic cameras are needed. If everyone was a good person and we didn’t have all these problems and trouble that people create, we wouldn’t need cameras for anything, except the kind for recreational use.

    Kids and teens have to be “watched” by parents and schools to make sure they do the right thing, the same goes for adults.

    If Palm Coast and any other city makes some money off the cameras, so what. Peoples lives have been saved, the driver at fault is caught, people have become more cautious. The cameras don’t prevent every accident, nothing will, but they sure have gone a long way in making driving more orderly and sane here in palm coast.

    • Nancy N. says:

      So Tulip, let’s see if I understand you – we need red light cameras because there’s so many home invasions, meth labs, and burglaries happening in the middle of our city’s intersections?

      As for adults needing to be watched to make sure they do the right thing, may I suggest two pieces of reading for you: George Orwell’s 1984, and the U.S. Constitution. The first one tells you why constantly being watched by your government isn’t a good idea, and the second one tells you why it isn’t actually legal in our country.

      Should you wish to move to a country where people are constantly watched to make sure they aren’t doing what the government thinks they shouldn’t, I am sure that Amnesty International could provide you with a list of suggestions.

  21. dck says:

    The people who don’t like the cameras are the violators that were caught.. Stop the whining and obey the law. You people that prefer to run red lights can keep doing it because the city can always use a few extra bucks.. Hopefully in the process you won’t kill someone..

    • Nancy N. says:

      That’s a pretty huge assumption. I’ve never once received a ticket from those cameras. I don’t make it a habit to run red lights. I do everything I can to avoid it. I am one of those people who always gets honked at because I stop TOO WELL making my right turn on red and everyone behind me gets impatient! But I still hate the cameras because I hate the infringement on my civil liberties having surveillance cameras at every intersection in town, and I don’t believe it is constitutional to enforce a penalty against the owner of a car no matter who is driving. I also believe that it is unconstitutional having traffic laws enforced by companies that have a profit motive to issue citations when they are determining guilt or innocence. My beef with the cameras has nothing to do with wanting to get away with something – it has to do with civil liberties!

  22. glad fly says:

    this is a gimmic. there’s nothing they can do to make you pay a ticket of this nature. read it carefully. they cannot suspend or revoke or put any points on your license. they threaten you with a bad mark on your credit which is actually illegal to do. i wouldn’t pay one if it was one dollar. they got me once but never again.

  23. PJ says:

    Blondie ?

    I have no fear of getting caught when I do something wrong you pay for your mistakes or if it is intentional.

    My point is that we are getting rippped off set the yellow timers longer and safety goes up by 80%

    If you want to believe that the cameras are there for your safety then you truly are a blond………………..

  24. FNA says:

    I got tboned in one the camera intersections, it obviously did not help at all…

  25. John Boy says:

    Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital are the “owners” of American Traffic Solutions, Mitt Romney thanks you for your donations to his growing wealth.

  26. says:

    Over it:: you covered all the points that i have been always thinking of. i have been here 11 years in palm coast and have seen it go down. looking forward to the time i will be leaving and hope it will be soon.

  27. DoubleGator says:

    Well heck. Why not set up speed traps citywide and hire speeding “officers” whose only pay is a % of the ticket fines. If you are not going over the speed limit you have no beef. Makes the same amount of sense and trashes the quality of life here just as much.

  28. If justice prevails, the Florida Supreme Court will rule that all red light camera tickets from before July 2010 must be fully refunded. The financial pain this will cost those cities that defied state law to install the cameras before they were authorized will be WELL deserved.

    If fairness prevails, the Florida legislature will do one of two things.
    1) The best solution would be a law to ban all red light cameras statewide. They are only profitable when the yellow intervals are deliberately set less-safely and too-short for the actual approach speeds of vehicles.
    2) If a ban cannot be passed, then a second best solution would be to require that the yellow light intervals at all intersections with cameras be set one second longer than the Florida Department of Transportation rules AND that no citations for right on red turn can be given with cameras (law in Tennessee).

    In either case, the cameras would be removed — either as no longer legal, or as drastic money losers.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  29. BlueBoy says:

    Has anyone else noticed the shorted yellow light time at many of these intersections? The people running the red light program seem to be tweaking the yellow light timing to maximize citations and thus revenue.

    Florida has a standard for yellow light time that is based on the speed limit and other factors. Here is the law:

    If you can prove that the yellow light at the intersection where you were ticketed is shorter than DOT the regulation your ticket is invalid.

  30. Kevin says:

    I have not had a redlight ticket but I think it’s a joke about the red light camaras we need a new city counsel an need Landon out of office he makes to much the scam is this the city plants to much an is over budget an Landon needs a nother raise so be prepared if you are one mile over speed limit for a ticket from the city counsel red light scam ps city counsel don’t be surprised when triple a marks palm coast as a town to avoid you have stopped industry from palm coast well anyone traveling will be sure to go rite on by or not move here to be hassled good job useless city counsel vote them out

  31. Since1987 says:

    I am a law enforcement officer, working in another county but live here in PC. The red light cameras are a disgrace, and many of you have noticed several things about our lights:
    #1- You cannot travel by way of Belle Terre Pkyw or PC Pwky without getting stopped at every light. Traffic engineering at any level would tell you that the lights are set incorrectly, they are supposed to allow for smooth traffic flow. But they are not, and for what reason? $$$
    #2- Yellow lights. Since the installation of cameras the timing on the yellow light seems shorter. I mean once it turns yellow you have milliseconds to slam on the break.
    #3- T bone accidents are down, rear end accidents are up. Safety improvement? No, it solved one problem and created another.
    #4- The violations are not reviewed by a law enforcement officer. An employee of traffic solutions in Arizona reviews the picture and decides to issue the citation.
    #5- The citations only allow about 7 days for the violator to pay before it becomes an actually state citation. Very unreasonable.

  32. Scammed says:

    I have to choose between the fine and food on the table by friday. Hope theyre happy. EVERYBODY EVENTUALLY RUNS A RED @ ONE TIME IN LIFE. That is why this is not fair law.

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