Police officials comment on traffic camera law

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 412 views 

For drivers who go through the intersection of College Avenue and Joyce Boulevard in Fayetteville, it's nearly a given that they'll see at least one car run a red light. It's become common place and has been for years, according to Sgt. Craig Stout, public information officer with the Fayetteville Police Department.

Stout said the department acknowledges that the intersection is a problem, but short of having officers dedicated to pulling over light runners, his department is somewhat limited in what it can do to cut down on the problem.

"With the red light, we don't have the ability yet (to enforce the law without a heavy police presence)," he said. "A lot of it for the red light-running is either officer observed or complaint-driven."

The Arkansas General Assembly attempted to help Stout and the Fayetteville Police Department with legislation that would have allowed cities with a population above 50,000, such as Fayetteville, to use cameras to enforce traffic laws, but it failed to pass.

According to Mark Hayes, general council with the Arkansas Municipal League, the legislation (HB 2158), met opposition from groups concerned about data retention by police departments.

"There were several technology, police-related things that went on this session and I know that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) had concerns about how much data would be stored and for how long," he said.

Captain Kirk Redwine with the Fort Smith Police Department said that many cities across the nation have been met with issues specifically regarding the traffic cameras.

"There's a lot of attorneys out there that are fighting this type of enforcement," he said. "From what I can gather, most of those attorneys are winning."

Redwine said many times, the reason for a lawsuit and a subsequent victory had to do with how the laws were enforced. Legal technicalities have made it a challenge for municipalities to come out on top in a traffic camera-involved case should a ticketed driver chose to challenge their ticket in court, he said.

"The way the laws in most states are written, a police officer must be present and observe a particular violation take place. Most of the systems do not have a certified police officer sitting there watching. Someone watches it later (after a violation has been detected)."

Hayes said should the bill come back for a vote during this session or resurface during a future session, he would seek to ensure all concerns are addressed.

"You need to make sure its constrained, with no due process problems," he said. "(You need to) make sure everyone's fourth amendment rights are protected."

While the possibility of having electronically-detected violations and subsequent tickets challenged in court is an issue, Redwine said his personal belief is that a city, such as Fort Smith, would not spend the money to install a system.

"There would be significant cost up front and how long would it (take) to reap the rewards of that initial cost?" he said. "With the litigation taking place, I just can't see that it's a worthwhile proposition, especially in today's climate with budgets being what they are. This is all just my own opinion."

Hayes said his understanding was that if the law were to pass, it would be "revenue neutral." He added that he thought traffic cameras would be beneficial to cities that may not have the police force needed to enforce all traffic laws.

"With the economy struggling, we may not always have people to do this and if we can keep people from getting killed at intersections, then it's worth doing."

Should any legislation now or in the future make traffic enforcement through non-human methods legal, Stout said he believed the Fayetteville Police Department would at least explore the option, even if its larger cousin to the south did not.

"If it was to pass the legislature…I think the police department might look at it but we'd have to gauge our citizenry," he said, adding that even passing a seatbelt law was difficult in Arkansas. "It wasn't until the federal government got involved with highway dollars to make them pass that one. I just don't see it being popular among constituents."

Hayes said even with objections, he would encourage municipalities to explore the options available to them should the law eventually change.

"I would very much encourage my clients to look at it and I would be willing to help in that regard," he said. "Any level of government charged with public safety would be doing itself a disservice if they didn't look at every piece of technology available to make sure you and I get home in one piece."

Facebook Comments