Despite Arizona lawmaker's curbs, cities not slowing down in photo enforcement - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Despite Arizona lawmaker's curbs, cities not slowing down in photo enforcement

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Posted: Saturday, May 7, 2011 6:00 am | Updated: 9:19 am, Fri May 13, 2011.

A new state law requiring cities to change the wording on mailed photo-enforcement tickets to clearly reflect a speeder’s rights and obligations to pay them doesn’t appear to be putting the brakes on the East Valley cities issuing citations.

Senate Bill 1398 is Arizona lawmakers’ latest attempt to hamper photo enforcement. The state ended its experiment with speed cameras along freeways last summer, when the Arizona Department of Public Safety chose not to renew its contract with Phoenix-based vendor Reflex.

But cities vow to keep issuing the controversial tickets — and when offenders don’t pay up, they’ll keep sending process servers in an attempt to hand-deliver a court summons.

With SB 1398 on the books, it remains to be seen how many people will stop forking over fines for a ticket, ranging from $171 for motorists traveling 11 mph over the speed limit to slightly more than $250 if they’re going 19 mph or faster over the speed limit. On average, one third to one half of speeders are paying them now, while speed and red-light photo enforcement for cities throughout the East Valley have been operating at losses to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars being drained from general funds. Cities differ in how they tally the costs of their photo-enforcement programs, some adding it in to the costs of staff hired specifically to process the tickets or identify the people behind the wheel of the vehicle flashed by the camera.

Mesa, the East Valley’s largest city, has experienced nearly an $800,000 loss through its speed photo program the last three fiscal years, according to information from the city. Phoenix, which has limited speed photo enforcement to red-light cameras and radar vans in school zones, is in the black, netting $458,951 last year after raking in $1.4 million, but paying a portion of that to the state and to Redflex, its vendor.

KEEP SMILING

SB 1398, is co-sponsored by state Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert — who is no fan of photo enforcement. It does not require the people who receive citations in the mail to respond to them or be forced to identify the person driving their vehicle. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week, more or less just confirms the rights people have when it comes to responding to the tickets.

Biggs has said that the way tickets are worded now implies that people have to respond to them and identify the driver of the vehicle if it isn’t them.

“It’s intended to raise revenue, not to provide a deterrent to speeding,” Biggs said.

Biggs also has contended that the tickets are not issued by an officer, but generated by machines at Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems, thus, not making them court documents. Mesa, Chandler and Tempe contract with Redflex.

If individuals can dodge a process server for 90 days after receiving a ticket in the mail, that ticket is dismissed. But, if a process server catches up with you, speeders and red-light runners will wind up paying $37 extra (if they are residents of the county they are caught speeding in) or $50 for out-of-county residents to offset the process serving costs to the city.

The new law, which goes into effect July 20, also adds $13 more in surcharges. Eight dollars will go to the state, four dollars will go to the law enforcement agency overseeing the photo-enforcement tickets and one dollar will go to the county where the ticket is issued.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who co-sponsored the bill with Biggs and received a photo citation in Pima County three years ago (and said he paid it), said his goal is to completely rid the state of traffic cameras.

“Photo enforcement is a huge infringement on the liberty of citizens in the state because they monitor one’s movement,” Antenori said. “I don’t want it to be a money maker, but people need to be properly served. Under the current way tickets were being sent out, when people receive a photo ticket in the mail, they believed they officially were being served a summons and they were not. People are not compelled to respond until they are properly served.

“If cities are saying they are using photo enforcement for safety reasons, that’s fine, but if it’s being used to generate revenue, it isn’t,” Antenori added. “There’s a lot of flaws in photo enforcement. They aren’t discretionary and those who get them are denied due process because you can’t cross examine your accuser. The state Legislature never went through the proper process of reviewing it or debating it. These photo-enforcement companies quietly came in and just started up.”

Municipal court officials contend that photo enforcement never has been as great a source of revenue as many people believe.

“I don’t see any significant impact the law would have on us,” said Lenny Montanaro, deputy administrator for Mesa City Court. “We’ve always made it an option for the person receiving the ticket to identify the driver, not a requirement. There’s no law to say that they have to. But, people have to respond to these, and they will get processed served — that’s per rule. Did the state Legislature say we can’t process serve speeders?”

Rick Rager, administrator for the Tempe City Court, echoed Montanaro’s sentiments about the law.

“I don’t believe the law will have any effect on what we do,” Rager said. “There’s people out there who are going to pay or they’re not going to pay. It would have been nice if the state would have sent us a sample of the verbiage or wording we’re supposed to put on the ticket. On ours, we always said, ‘If you’re not the driver, you can nominate the person who was driving your car,’ but we never said you shall or must. Our wording was somewhat of an advisement, but we will make the verbiage change.”

OPERATING AT A LOSS

Montanaro, who has worked for Mesa City Court since 1992, said speed photo enforcement was implemented in 1997 more as a deterrent than a way to pad the city’s coffers.

“Photo enforcement is not the cash cow everyone thinks it is,” Montanaro said. “Speed photo enforcement is a way to shape the driving behaviors of our city. People need to slow down and obey those driving devices.”

For the last three fiscal years, Mesa’s speed photo enforcement has been deep in the red — operating at a $289,311 loss for the 2009-10 fiscal year, a $309,342 loss for the 2008-09 fiscal year, and a $196,446 loss for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

“Photo enforcement was never intended to be a money-making thing, but a break-even thing,” Montanaro said. “It has enlightened people in the sense that if their driving behavior doesn’t change, they’ll continue to get cited. We’re getting the numbers to be where they need to be.”

In Chandler, speed photo enforcement was operating at a loss to the city of $23,123 for the 2010-11 fiscal year through Jan. 31 — money that goes toward its vendor Redflex, Cox Communications and personnel costs, according to Carla Boatner, administrator for Chandler City Court. For the 2009-10 fiscal year, the city’s speed photo enforcement also operated at negative balance of $22,514, but it made $149,329 in the 2008-09 fiscal year. That was the year the city added cameras to intersections, Boatner said.

Of the 9,000 filings in Chandler through March 30, 2,346 people paid the tickets averaging $225 in full, and 1,540 went to traffic school, according to Boatner. For the court’s 2009-10 fiscal year, there were 12,174 speed photo-enforcement tickets, of which 4,737 were paid in full. There also were 2,904 offenders who went to traffic school, according to information from the court.

In an email to the Tribune, Chandler police Sgt. Joe Favazzo said that nothing would change in their photo-enforcement program and they plan to continue using it.

“The city will send out a notice of violation, and if the person chooses not to respond, and personnel can identify them through a driver’s license photo, a complaint will be sent to them in the mail,” Favazzo said.

Chandler police have an officer dedicated to weeding through the photo-enforcement tickets that Redflex issues to compare the speeder to the driver’s license photo of the vehicle’s owner. If they can be identified, that complaint will be mailed to them — but if not, the ticket will be sent to the owner of the vehicle asking them to identify the driver.

However, if that person ignores the complaint and dodges the process server for 90 days, that ticket, too, will be dismissed.

In Phoenix last year, there were 14,725 photo-enforcement tickets filed with 12,143 of them being for red-light violations and 2,582 of them being speeders in school zones. Of those tickets, 8,285 of them were paid, according to information from the city.

Gilbert does not have enforcement cameras in its jurisdiction and will not be affected by the new law, said Sgt. William Balafas, a Gilbert police spokesman.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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