May 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Yellow Light For Photo-Radar Ticketing High-Tech Systems Track Traffic Violators, But Mistakes Could Leave Suspects And Courts Seeing Red

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Plans to issue traffic tickets to speeders and red-light runners based on photographs are on hold until Spokane city officials can convince Municipal Court judges the citations will stick.

The photo-radar system is supposed to begin June 1, with “photo red” starting two months later.

“At this point, we don’t know” when the systems will be in place, Lt. Glenn Winkey of the Police Department said Thursday. “The judges want to make sure that we cite the right driver.”

Municipal Judge Sara Derr and city prosecutors have raised concerns about the way the city plans to determine who was driving when the violation occurred.

With photo radar, a camera located in a van takes a snapshot of any driver exceeding the speed limit by at least 11 mph. The picture also shows the car’s license plate. Data recorded on the photograph include the car’s speed and location. An officer sits in the van taking notes about the violation.

With “photo red,” a camera photographs any car entering the intersection after the light has turned red. The camera takes a picture of the driver, the car’s license plate and the traffic light. Data on the photograph include the car’s speed and the length of time the light had been red.

The original plan for both systems was to use the license plate to find the car’s owner, then retrieve data from his or her driver’s license, said Mike Piccolo, assistant city attorney.

“With the sex, the age, the race and physical description, we should be able to weed out most of the incorrect drivers,” Piccolo said. “If you see a white female (in the photograph) and the car’s registered to a white male, you know that’s not right.”

But Derr and prosecutors want the city to take it a step further by looking at the driver’s license photograph, Piccolo said.

Efforts to reach Derr and city Prosecutor Sam Faggiano were unsuccessful Thursday.

An attorney for United States Public Technology - the company that will operate Spokane’s “photo red” and photo-radar systems - is talking with the state about ways to access the driver’s license photos.

Winkey said he hopes the matter can be resolved within the next two months.

Mesa, Ariz., has used “photo red” and photo radar since Jan. 1, said Mike Zell, the city’s traffic program coordinator. Mesa officials compare the sex of the person in the photograph to the sex of the registered driver, just as Spokane originally had planned to do.

“If it matches, we issue the ticket,” Zell said. “If the person who comes to court matches the person in the photograph, we’ve established the … burden of proof.”

, DataTimes


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