NMA’s Weekly ATE Racket Report for June 12, 2018

Compiled by NMA Foundation Executive Director James C. Walker and NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn

The ATE Racket Report is a weekly feature of the NMA blog. We want to bring the issues of automated traffic enforcement to our supporters in a more coherent up-to-date fashion.

This past week…

TheVerge.com reported that The Vehicle Face System (VFS), a new Homeland Security facial recognition system will land at the borders this summer. Testing will begin in August at Texas’ Anzalduas Port of Entry. The VFS will scan drivers’ faces as they leave the US. The project is part of the broader Biometric Exit program which seeks to physically verify visa-holders’ identities as they leave the country.

The city of Baltimore announced last week that they are using $4 million extra garnered from speed camera citations for the city’s fire department.  How nice of them?  Sounds like taxation by citation to us.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered the city of St. Louis to take down their license plate readers. The DOT sent a letter to the city in May stating that if state legislation was not passed in the 2018 session then the ALPRs would need to come down by June 1, 2018. The DOT said that currently state law does not give it the power to grant access to law enforcement on the state’s owned transportation network other than the enforcement of motor vehicle laws. City police say they have made more than 149 arrests since the cameras were installed in June 2015.

After a 10 year fight, the Lincoln New Hampshire Police Department finally mounted an ALPR to one of their cruisers. In 2016, the state legislature ended the state’s status as the only state in the US with a law that prohibited using ALPRs. Only catch—data can only be saved for three minutes, the shortest amount of time of any state.

Ohio Supreme Court upholds the ruling against the town of New Miami and its automated traffic enforcement program.  The town claims it will go bankrupt if it is has to pay back (which it now has to) the nearly $3 million to motorists who did not have due process. Lawyers for the 33,000 motorists in the class action immediately asked for a financial watchdog to be appointed to make sure the village does not spend all of its money to avoid judgement.

Wait and See

The northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit recently against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. The ACLU are asking ICE to be ordered to reveal how it’s using data gathered from automated license plate readers. The Freedom of Information Act requests are for records between ICE and ALPR database companies. ACLU staff attorney Vasudha Talla said, “We believe that aggregation of this sensitive personal information into databases without safeguards threatens core civil rights and liberties. We are seeking records to find out the policies and procedures that ICE has established for itself in using this data and whether it will be monitoring its officers’ compliance with those rules.”

Louisiana’s TheAdvocate.com posted a story this week about the state of affairs for Baton Rouge’s red-light camera program. They also named the number one violator of unpaid tickets and late fees to be Sean Watson, who has received more than 100 tickets for a total of $23,633. When contacted by reporters, Watson stated the following, “Because it’s not enforceable, why pay it? It doesn’t count against you.” Many other citation holders are also not paying their fines—62 percent in 2017. So far this year, less than 24 percent. Over the past decade, only half have paid on the 497,721 citations issued with an estimated $43 million in fines owed. Perhaps Baton Rouge will decide enough is enough and not renew their contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) when it is up in January.  This is a wait and see….

North Carolina’s state engineering board recently announced that it is investigating whether American Traffic Solutions broke the law by failing to have cameras installed in Wilmington certified by a licensed engineer. Wilmington’s original group of red-light cameras were installed in 2000 by TrafficPax. In 2009, the contract was handed over to ATS which then put up new cameras at 13 locations in 2010. This plan is the one that does not have the official seal of a licensed engineer.

Streetsblog NYC reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo walked by a rally on Wednesday of last week and told those gathered that he supports the Every School Speed Camera Act which would double the number of school zone speed cameras in NYC. The legislature has until July to pass the bill and if it does not pass, then all the school zone speed cameras will be turned off in the city since the program was considered an experiment. The act has not yet found its way out of the Senate Transportation Committee and it may well likely not due to politics.

Bad News

Axon, the company that makes police body cams, is teaming up with DJI, a Chinese based drone manufacturer, to make drones to sell to police departments. The new company will be called Axon Air and the devices will be linked to Axon already established cloud-based database for law enforcement called Evidence.com.

A class action lawsuit brought by motorists against Orlando, Florida’s red-light camera program has been rejected. On Friday, a state appeals court upheld the rejection of the proposed suit due to the invalidation of the Orlando RLC program in 2014.

Chicago plans to use a total of 30,000 surveillance cameras with automated traffic enforcement to fight violence in the city. Safety advocates are also urging for more automated traffic cameras plus lower speed limits to make the Windy City safer for pedestrians.

In little over a year, approximately 8,000 citations at $200 a piece have been mailed out to uninsured motorists in Boosier Parish, Louisiana. Sheriff Julian Whittington says he estimates that between 15 to 20 percent of motorists are uninsured in the state. The parish currently has 12 automatic license plate readers in place to catch uninsured motorists and plan to install 32 more.

Newark, New Jersey police have opened up their surveillance cameras to the public on the internet which means that anyone at any time can see where you are in the city. Can anyone say crowdsourced Big Brother?

NMA’s City and State Lists of RLCs and speed cameras

The NMA has compiled a list of which states and cities are using red-light and speed cameras. This may not be a complete list and please send any additions or subtractions to the nma@motorists.org for updating the list. 

Jim Walker’s ATE Commentary of the Week

Baltimore’s ticket camera rackets, like most, depend on improper and less-safe traffic safety engineering parameters for the posted speed limits and traffic lights. Spending the money collected by the camera rackets does not excuse taking money from mostly safe drivers with deliberately mis-engineered speed limits and traffic lights.

The Ohio State Supreme Court ruling that New Miami must refund the $3 million dollars collected with their illegal speed cameras has been a long time coming. The plaintiffs are asking for a Watchdog to be sure the town assets are not hidden away in the face of the ruling, and that is a proper request. If the town of New Miami does in fact go bankrupt, it would be a serious example to other towns to not set up illegal ticket camera rackets. Maybe New Miami will follow “poster child” New Rome, Ohio out of existence due to their predatory ticketing scams.

The referral to the North Carolina state engineering board for lacking signed and sealed engineering plans is an important step. Many states have requirements that things like ticket camera programs require signed and sealed engineering plans to justify their use. Without the signed and sealed plans, the programs are illegal under the laws of many states. This is one of several venues where such challenges are likely to be raised. If the engineering board agrees, the entire history of the Wilmington camera program will be in question and it may help strengthen similar challenges in other states.

The NMA emailed Baton Rouge officials about the many reasons red-light camera programs are wrong, including the financial damage they do to the economy. We urged the officials to end the camera program and to make engineering changes that are likely to produce better results without the wrongful ticketing of mostly safe drivers needed to make camera programs profitable.

Unfortunately, the legal challenge in Orlando failed. The NMA did some Lidar speed studies a few years ago to prove why the Orlando program is a predatory racket, but the courts sided with the $$$$$$$$.

James C. Walker is a life member of the National Motorists Association. He is also a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation.

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