Traffic tech gets caution signal

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

law enforcement.

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

enrichment."

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