Red-light cameras are the biggest local boondoggle ever. Lafayette, Louisiana was recently in the news because the city-parish council decided to extend their red-light camera program another year despite the fact that $12.4 million dollars had not been collected on over 211,000 photo enforced tickets since the program’s inception nine years ago.
But the story has even a more twisted tale than just what appears on the surface. As of July 2013, Lafayette was owed just over $3 million in unpaid Redflex camera tickets. That year City-Parish Attorney Mike Herbert vowed to do something about the problem and enlisted 40 to 50 volunteer lawyers (who would receive one-third of what they could collect) to help him go after habitual offenders, including $46,000 from a single business. The city attorney uncovered the fact that he could collect on 10 years’ worth of fines instead of what everyone assumed was a three-year statute of limitations.
Herbert and his merry band of lawyers decided not to pursue offenders that owed less than $125 because the cost of filing fees might be more than recovery. On the other end of the scale, Herbert didn’t want to pursue scofflaws who owed more than $20,000 in fines and penalties because those lawsuits would have to be filed in state rather than city court.
At an April 2014 meeting, the Lafayette City-Parish Council decided along with Herbert to stand down on all the lawsuits because of the confusion it might cause by going after offenders who had outstanding tickets for more than three years. Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux noted that council members put a halt to the lawsuits in 2014 because they didn’t want to sue so many of their co-workers and neighbors.
Since 2013, the amount owed to the Lafayette City-Parish rose to $12.4 million, an increase of $9.4 million in three years. During that time, Lafayette has collected about $1.75 million a year in paid photo tickets, splitting the proceeds with Redflex on a roughly 55/45 basis and using the revenue to offset police department expenses. Also, in any of the news accounts concerning Lafayette City-Parish, the supposed safety aspects of the red-light camera program were never mentioned.
On May 17, 2016, the same day as the council meeting where the decision to extend the red-light program in Lafayette City-Parish was decided, the District Attorney Keith Stutes filed a lawsuit against the City-Parish government for not funding his office. Louisiana politics at its best!
At the same council meeting, Councilman William Theriot, opposed to the red-light camera program, asked the council to let city voters decide in November whether to continue with the traffic camera enforcement program. The council took no action on his proposal.
Lafayette City-Parish has over 182,000 adults over the age of 18 and approximately 160,000 registered drivers. Another city in a similar situation is San Mateo, California which lies in the middle of Silicon Valley. San Mateo has less of a population in the city proper than Lafayette City-Parish (approximately 74,000 adults over 18). Last week, the San Mateo City Council also decided to extend their red-light camera program. San Mateo has 5 cameras at three intersections that have nearly 21 million drivers passing through each year. The city issues an average of 13 red-light camera citations daily that are generally $490 per ticket, resulting in nearly $6400 of ticket revenue per day. The city apparently only receives 27.5% of the money from the fines. The rest goes for court fees and all the other fees tacked on by the state of CA to pay for stuff. The city also has an undisclosed flat contract for services with Redflex. Last year, the city took in $229,000 and two years before that $340,000. Unfortunately, in last week’s meeting, few citizens spoke against extending the camera program unlike the past when many had protested the city contract.
The Hagerstown, Maryland City Council also decided last week that they will allow the police chief to explore adding red-light cameras to their existing 11-speed camera program. The police chief told the city council he was excited that the red-light cameras could also be used for surveillance.
Phoenix, AZ turned on their red-light cameras again last week after all red-light programs in the state were turned off in March after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich released an opinion that third party contractors and their employees who operate photo radar and red-light cameras must get a private investigator license or they cannot do business in Arizona. Apparently, Redflex which operates in Phoenix and several other Arizona communities has complied with the ruling.
There is some good news though on the Red-Lights Camera Front—Marysville, CA will discontinue their program. Suffolk County, NY residents are fighting back against their community’s red-light program. Springfield, OH reports that a year after they discontinued their red-light camera program, they had no increase in crashes.
One step forward….one step at a time!