Was the city of Arnold so anxious to be the first municipality in Missouri to install red-light traffic cameras that it circumvented the law?
Under Missouri statute Section 302.225, every court regulating the operation of vehicles on highways must report to the Missouri Department of Revenue a record of any plea or finding of guilty of any person convicted of a moving violation within seven days after the record is made.
The Arnold City Council voted in July 2005 to install red-light cameras at four signalized intersections and hired American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz. to install, operate and maintain the system.
But was the company aware of the Missouri statute regarding traffic violations when it was in negotiations with the city of Arnold?
According to a letter sent to James D. Tuton, president of American Traffic Solutions Inc., on May 24, 2005 from attorney Stephen P. Chinn of Stinson Morrison Hecker, it was aware. The letter alluded to municipal enforcement of traffic violations using an automated red-light camera in the state of Missouri. In the letter, Chinn explained that municipalities possess the authority to adopt a program permitting the automated enforcement of traffic violations but not to ignore state law.
“We do not believe a constitutional charter city or statutory city, town or village could adopt an ordinance which circumvents the Missouri Director of Revenue’s point system for the suspension and revocation of motor vehicle licenses without legislative authorization to do so,” Chinn wrote.
The letter was released as part of discovery in a federal lawsuit against the city of Arnold and ATS. Chet Pleban of Pleban & Associates is the attorney involved in the lawsuit challenging the use of red-light ticket cameras. Recently U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas C. Mummert III, of the Eastern District of Missouri, denied a motion by ATS to dismiss the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations claims filed against it. However, the judge did dismiss claims against the Arnold City Council and mayor acting in their individual capacity on the basis of legislative immunity.
Attorney Robert Sweeney said that Arnold did make attempts to report red-light camera violations but that the Department of Revenue had no charge code to report them until last year.
Director of Communications Ted Farnen of the Department of Revenue said that if local jurisdictions consider running red lights as an infraction, rather than a moving violation, they are not required to report them to the state.
The city ordinance, amended by the Arnold City Council, in July 2006, states that “no points will be assigned to the violators drivers license when guilty of an Automated Red Light Enforcement violation. A previous section on “reporting requirements under Mo. Rev. Stat. 302.225” was removed.
State legislators are considering legislation that would address this issue.
In the House, Rep. Brian Yates, R-Lees Summit, is sponsoring the Missouri Universal Red Light Enforcement Act that would strictly regulate red-light cameras. House Bill 241 would require municipalities to treat the $100 red-light violations like any other moving violation, where an incident report is forwarded to the state Department of Revenue and a driver gets two points on his or her license. A moving violation would allow drivers a chance to defend themselves in court. The bill is in the Public Safety Committee. A hearing was held on the bill this past Tuesday.
SB58, sponsored by Sen. Jim Lembke, R- St. Louis, has a provision that prohibits the issuance of an automated photo red-light enforcement system citation unless the driver is clearly identifiable by a police officer located within the municipality employing the use of an automated photo red-light system. The bill passed in the Senate last week and is now in the House.
Matt Hay, Arnold city councilman and founding member of Don’t Tread on Me!, is convinced the cameras are all about the money. On each $100 fine collected in Arnold, ATS receives about a third and the city keeps the remainder. Between October 2005 and Jan. 2008 alone, nearly 14,000 citations were issued. The cameras bring in an estimated $200,000 annually for the city.
Don’t Tread on Me gathered more than 1,000 signatures to put the red-light camera issue on the April ballot but the city council voted it down.
Another group, Missourians against Red Light Cameras, is challenging the use of red-light cameras in St. Louis City. Recently the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association spoke out against the use of red-light cameras as a revenue raising tool as well. The organization claims to have 500 members willing to circulate a petition that will force a referendum on the red-light camera issue in St. Louis.
The red-light camera system detects a motor vehicle that passes over sensors in the pavement after a traffic signal has turned red. The sensors are connected to computers in high-speed cameras, which take two photographs of the violation: one of the front of the vehicle when it enters the intersection and the second when the vehicle is in the intersection. There is no photo taken of the driver.
Law enforcement officials review the photograph and a citation is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
ATS claims to be the first company to introduce photo enforcement to the U.S. in 1987. The company just announced that is has reached a major milestone with the installation of its 1000th photo-enforcement camera and more than 500 additional cameras under contract.