Traffic tech gets caution signal
- By William Matthews
- Jan 01, 2002
Technology as traffic cop has lost another round in court. A Denver judge
ruled this week that the city cannot delegate police powers or pay a company
to issue traffic tickets.
Denver County Judge Mary Celeste dismissed four $40 speeding tickets
issued last summer by ACS State and Local Solutions. The ruling was a victory
for Gary Pirosko, a lawyer, former sheriff's deputy and certified traffic
radar officer — and recipient of two of the tickets.
But the case was not a clear defeat for the use of technology in traffic
Celeste ruled that Denver's use of a photo radar system violated two
laws — one that requires traffic laws to be enforced by police, and another
that prohibits the city from paying vendors according to the number of traffic
fines they issue.
However, the judge rejected a volley of claims that the use of photo
radar violates multiple state and federal constitutional rights.
Based on the ruling, Denver probably could continue using photo radar
systems to enforce speeding laws if it adopted different personnel and business
practices, Pirosko said.
Nevertheless, some privacy advocates hailed the ruling as comparable
to California rulings against the use of red light cameras.
Denver's photo radar cameras were operated by city technicians, not
police officers. Celeste said that violates a city law that requires police
to enforce traffic laws.
Pirosko said the city paid the contractor $3 million in 2000 for three
vans equipped with photo radar systems and for processing and mailing tickets
to the owners of automobiles photographed.
However, the three systems, designed to snap pictures of autos that
are speeding, only cost about $40,000, Pirosko said. A state law that permits
municipalities to use photo radar systems prohibits them from paying vendors
for more than the value of the equipment. Fees cannot be based on services
such as processing and mailing tickets. Nor can they be based on the number
of tickets issued, Pirosko said.
In San Diego, the use of red light cameras was successfully challenged
in part because the vendor, Lockheed Martin IMS, received $70 out of each
$271 fine. Photos of accused red light runners were deemed "untrustworthy"
because of the Lockheed had a financial incentive find violators.
Pirosko said he is considering a class-action suit so Denver-area motorists
can recover millions of dollars in fines that he said constitute "unjust