Owen Courreges: More highway robbery

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We keep on hearing it again and again, like a bad refrain: “If you don’t want a traffic camera ticket, don’t break the law.”

I’ve written so many columns criticizing the traffic camera program in New Orleans that I’ve frankly lost count. Every time I write one, somebody implies that the only people with anything to fear are those who speed or run red lights. Only scofflaws oppose the cameras, we’re told.

Owen Courreges

For those readers, I offer the above submission into evidence, a photograph taken by a traffic camera alleging a speeding violation on Freret Street near the former Audubon Primary Academy (which, incidentally, has been closed for some time). A reader contacted me and gave me the information regarding her citation because she didn’t immediately understand why she had been cited.

Look closely at this photograph. The citation was made at approximately 8:51 a.m. according to the camera’s internal clock. The speed limit was alleged to be 20 mph. However, the speed limit signs indicate a school zone speed limit of 20 mph from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., with a normal speed limit of 25 mph. Thus, although the school zone hours had ended six minutes before, the camera was still ticketing for school zone violations.

This isn’t supposed to happen. First of all, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Arizona company that manages the traffic camera program, is supposed to program the cameras properly. The city doesn’t check up on ATS. As far as the city is concerned, ATS is to be trusted implicitly and doesn’t have to submit evidence in administrative hearings like the rest of us chumps.

Of course, the city claims that an officer with the New Orleans Police Department reviews each citation before it goes out to ensure that the photographs show the violation alleged. This obviously isn’t happening.

In this case, an officer reviewing the citation should have immediately seen that the camera was ticketing for school zone violations outside of school zone hours. Thus, either the officer is such a poor observer that he has no business being a member of the force, or he rubber-stamped the citation (which, incidentally, is cheaper for the city).

There are even worse examples. Last week, Fox 8 reported a recent case in which a local resident, Caleb Fray, received a red light camera ticket claiming that he had run a red light in Mid-city in his Honda Accord. There was only one problem: the photograph and video accompanying the citation showed a Nissan XTerra SUV.

“I would think somebody’s looking through them, you know, before they send them out,” Frey told Fox 8. “I wonder if anybody does because you would notice that, you know, the registration shows a two-door car and the picture shows a four-door SUV.”

The answer is that the police don’t review these citations, not really. The entire program is built on simulating due process, not providing it. Due process is expensive and – I’ll say it again – the city’s goal is to maximize revenue, not protect the rights of citizens. It knows it can’t do both, and lip service is cheap.

This explains why the city has been fighting efforts in the state legislature to curtail traffic camera programs, instead proposing inadequate reforms of its own. Presently, the city fails to provide any oversight over ATS and refuses to provide any meaningful review in the Administrative Hearing Center, which handles challenges to camera tickets.

Hence, it comes as little surprise that rather than reforming the Administrative Hearing Center, a kangaroo court if there ever was one, the city instead proposes to provide a de novo review in Orleans Traffic Court.

In other words, the city wants to respond to the denial of due process in a city office by… doing absolutely nothing to reform that office. In fact, by providing a de novo review, one in which the case is looked at fresh rather than on a review of the record, the city is attempting to shield the Administrative Hearing Center from any review of its proceedings.

This is not kosher. As the Louisiana Supreme Court has noted, “the initial factfinding process [cannot] be deemed constitutionally acceptable simply because the government eventually offers a litigant an impartial de novo adjudication; he is entitled to a ‘neutral and detached judge in the first instance.’” Wilson v. City of New Orleans, 479 So.2d 891, 903 (La. 1985). In other words, the city can’t cure this on the back end.

Rodney Braxton, a lobbyist for the city in the state capitol, was recently quoted as saying “the process we have locally works.” Perhaps he’s right, but the question is not whether the process works, but for whom. Right now the city is grossly violating citizens’ right to due process. The process isn’t working for those who receive bogus tickets in the mail, or those who wait hours to challenge a ticket before a hearing officer who presumes guilt.

The only people who the process is working for are the good people at ATS and politicians who see camera tickets as a politically-safe source of revenue (unlike spending cuts or tax increases). It doesn’t work for us, and it never will.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

20 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: More highway robbery

  1. What about this…On Jackson Avenue, no speed limit signs in the block where I got my ticket…got a ticket for going 33 in a 25. I must have just turned onto the street. $75 ticket for going 8 miles over the limit? I thought all streets divided by a neutral ground were 35 mph limit…Here I am trying to obey the law and still getting it stuck to me 🙁

  2. I still don’t understand why crime cameras are a violation of civil liberties to the perp caught on film committing a crime, but the red light cameras are not a violation?

    No, I don’t have any photo enforced tickets in NO, knock wood. Could have something to do with the fact that I know where the cameras are and drive out of my way to avoid them.

  3. Thank you! I recently received a ticket for running a red light – when I was making a perfectly legal right-on-red turn. The appeals process is a farce – more expensive than the ticket. The city should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such careless and egregious management of these cameras. Is the city management trying to chase people out of Orleans parish?

  4. Great article….And as you pointed out…..These cameras are all about money. They have absolutely nothing to do about safety.

    • Wmecpa,

      Unless the video and/or photos do not show a violation, I wouldn’t bother going to the hearing. If there is even some ambiguity the hearing officer will probably uphold the ticket. Although they are supposed to reach decisions by a preponderence of the evidence, in reality it is more “guilty until proven innocent.”

  5. In the Mar 5 article in Uptown Messenger, “New traffic cameras near schools on Camp, Freret…” it notes that school zone hours will be expanded – as is also indicated on the City’s web site. Perhaps the problem is with outdated signage, not the camera. Notwithstanding the school zone, the photo still indicates 27mph on a 25mph street!

    • Regardless of what the speed limit actually is, the violation charged is 27 in a 20 mph zone, a charge of which, the defendant is clearly not guilty. If the city is relying on the photo provided as prima facie evidence of the violation, the photo itself fails in that it does not display that the alleged violation in fact occured. The further fact that this photo was supposed to have been reviewed by a police officer indicates instead that either the reviewing officer has purjured himself by attesting to the validity of the photo to support the charge, or that he has committed a fraud by not performing the review as required by law. What would be the excuse if the photo had read 25 in a 20 mph zone?

    • Not a Scofflaw,

      1. The camera is required to comport with the signage. Neither ATS nor the city should have done anything with the camera until the new policy was in effect and new signage was in place. In any event — there’s a school zone but no school, and they’re not only keeping a camera there, but they’re expanding its hours without posting new signage! Does that not bother you?!

      2. The photo indicates going 27mph in a 25mph zone, which is below the threshold for issuing a citation. It is also different from the violation for which the motorist was accused. Finally, it is not clear that two miles per hour is within the margin-of-error of these cameras. Neither ATS nor the city have released that information, and the people at the Administrative Hearing Center will not answer any questions or admit any evidence regarding accuracy and reliability (they are supposed to do so under the law, but they don’t).

        • Louis,

          Continue deifying Strunk & White all you want; those of us who have high regard for good writing and don’t need hard and fast rules will continue to write as we please, and write well.

          And by the way… If my attempts at humor fall flat, what is to be said about your attempt at humor by holding a satirical “worst writer championship?” I don’t see anybody laughing.

          • Actually, I just learned of this event, and I am delighted by it. I only wish I could have witnessed some of the earlier rounds in person. The thought of watching mountains of crumpled paper piling up behind these mighty warriors as they struggle to conjure the perfect overused phrase or grating melody is intoxicating!! Good luck Owen!

    • The school zone times of 7:30 to 8:45 are in place because that is when children are arriving at school. Once school begins, the school zone ends….Usually that time correlates to 15 minutes after school begins.
      So, if the school day begins at 8:30…..Then the zone speed limit should end at 8:45, regardless of the duration of the school day. If the day ends later as you indicate….Then the afternoon speed limit needs to be adjusted accordingly.

  6. Judy,

    Thankfully, the city is planning on raising the speed limit on Jackson Ave. back to 35 mph after the Times-Picayune called it the biggest speed trap in the city. But it won’t be retroactive, alas.

  7. Are they changing hours of the reduced limit in school zones to reflect that school is not in session for the next 3 months????

  8. Very glad you are continuing to take on this cause Owen! Not only is it annoying to receive a questionable citation several weeks (or more) after the alleged infraction, it opens up a whole can of worms as concerns accurate detection and motorists’ rights. Fight the good fight, my man!

  9. Why would anyone trust anything coming out of Arizona?????And why are we using these guys? Let me guess, lowest bidder???

  10. Isn’t everyone “up to speed” (pun intended) by now, as Mr. Courreges is? These cameras are for MONEY, not for safety. The city and the scam camera vendor have one and only one interest in the program and that is MONEY. Accuracy, fairness, honesty, and even legality don’t enter into the picture at all for the city or the scam camera vendor, just the MONEY counts.
    Citizens who care at all about fairness in traffic enforcement and who believe that enforcement motivated 99.9999% by MONEY is wrong need to contact their local officials to demand that the camera program be ended immediately. Identify those officials who support the predatory ticket camera program and vote them out at the next election cycle, to be replaced with honorable officials who believe traffic enforcement should be operated 100% about safety and fairness, and 0% about the MONEY.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, http://www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI

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