Fact Check

Handcuffs Photo

Speeder caught on photo radar sends picture of money to police, receives picture of handcuffs in return.

Published Apr 9, 1999


Claim:   A speeder caught by photo radar mails the police a picture of money to pay his fine, then receives a picture of handcuffs in return.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

I heard a news report on Chicago radio that a guy in California got a speeding ticket that was sent to him via the mail. It was one of those new "camera" set-ups that got him, where a camera is positioned along the highway, sans officer. The camera took the picture of his speeding car & tag number. A letter was generated by a computer & sent to him with the PHOTOGRAPH of his car speeding and the date & time of the offense. The letter went on to state that he had to send in a fine of $40. The story went that the guy was so mad that he sent back the letter with a PHOTOGRAPH of two (2) $20 bills. A week later he got a letter back from the police. He opened up the letter and inside was a PHOTOGRAPH of a pair of handcuffs!


Origins:   Our best information has it that this is a true story, albeit one that was partly a playful setup. In June 1991, the following squib appeared in San Francisco columnist Herb Caen's column:

Steve Barkley of Pebble Beach just got a $45 ticket and a photo of his car caught speeding in one of those new and possibly unconstitutional photo-radar speed traps in Campbell. Not to be outdone, he sent the Campbell Police Dept. a photo of $45 but I don't think it'll work either.

A week later, Caen had occasion to follow up with:

I ran an item a few days ago about Steve Barkley of Pebble Beach getting a $45 ticket for speeding through the photo-radar "trap" in Campbell and sending the Campbell Police Dept. a photo of $45. Well, Campbell police chief James A. Cost was equal to the challenge. He mailed Barkley a photo of a set of handcuffs. Your move, Steve.

It's clear both the speeder and police chief were engaging in a bit of horsing around. (Your run-of-the-mill speeder does not normally contact a high-profile columnist with the news that he's about to pay a fine, after all.) In a way, knowing this does rob the story of some of its specialness; we want to believe the miscreant honestly thought he could get out of paying his fine through such shenanigans and that an on-his-toes police chief came up with the handcuffs photo idea right on the spot.

Since its 1991 beginnings, this story has turned up in other newspapers, always told as an event that happened both locally and recently. Consider this 1997 version, set in England:

A motorist tried to make police see the funny side after he was caught speeding by a roadside camera. The man was sent a picture of his offending car, by police in Crewe, Cheshire, plus details of hi speed and a £40 fine. So he wrote out a cheque for £40, photographed it then sent the picture of the cheque back. But police had the last laugh. They sent the man a photograph of a pair of handcuffs as a warning of what might happen if he did not pay. The man, who has not been named by police, then set the real cheque by return post.

Barbara "photo cop(y)" Mikkelson

Last updated:   23 September 2014


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good to Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (p. 92).

    Caen, Herb.   "Smalltalk of the Town."

    The San Francisco Chronicle.   4 June 1991   (p. B1).

    Caen, Herb.   "Book of Dotteronomy."

    The San Francisco Chronicle.   12 June 1991   (p. B1).

    Greenwood, Tom.   "Commuting: Photo Radar Bill Would Put Motorists on Camera."

    The Detroit News.   5 February 1998   (p. C8).

    Press Association Newsfile.   "The Funny Side of the Law."

    25 December 1997   (Home News).