June 24, 2010 in City

Attorney: Spokane’s red-light camera ticket system flawed

City counters that law allows for officers to sign tickets digitally
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Local attorney John Clark challenged Spokane’s system of issuing tickets from red light cameras, arguing Thursday in Spokane Municipal Court that the city is not following well-established law.

Officers have long been required to sign infractions indicating that they reviewed the tickets and attested to their accuracy, Clark said. But with the red light cameras, the officer pushes a computer button that tells a private company in Arizona to affix a digital photo of the officer’s signature.

“The bottom line on this issue is that these tickets do not follow the law,” Clark said. “We are just trying to get the city to do it right instead of just making money.”

City attorneys disagree, saying state law allows for changes in technology to allow officers to sign tickets through the use of a computer.

“While it’s a little high tech, at the end of the day it’s not all that different from what we do” with officers signing paper infractions, said Assistant City Prosecutor Janean Phillips. “It’s not a big mystery. The purpose is to facilitate the efficient issuance of these infractions.”

Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan indicated she was leaning toward the city in the legal dispute brought by Clark on behalf of five clients who challenged the $124 tickets they received as a result of the red light cameras. But she reserved making her decision until hearing more evidence.

The city began fining red light violators caught on camera Nov. 1, 2008. Two cameras are at Francis Avenue and Division Street. One camera monitors Sprague Avenue and Browne Street, and another is at Mission Avenue and Hamilton Street.

As of January, Spokane issued 5,690 camera tickets that resulted in revenue of $419,000. After paying the camera company, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, and other expenses subtracted, police estimate a profit of $103,000.

According to court testimony, Spokane officers log onto the ATS computer system with a personal password. They then watch digital videos of the intersections and then decide whether drivers caught in the intersections committed infractions.

The officer then pushes a button, signing the ticket. Clark said that’s where his problems begin.

Clark said the city has offered no evidence about whether other officers or company employees could also affix the officers’ signature. And, he argued, it’s not clear whether that signature is simultaneous or is added when the company gets around to it.

He explained that the law allows residents about five days to gather evidence, such as photos of construction in an intersection, to contest the ticket. If they don’t receive the ticket for a couple weeks after the infraction was signed, they would lose that ability, he said.

Phillips countered saying that city officials have no reason to believe anyone has hacked into the private computer system.

“The officers … affix their signature with the press of a button,” she said. “All (the private company) does is print out a sheet of paper and mails it.”

Logan said her decision will most likely hinge on whether the process has been approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts in Olympia. She set a new hearing for oral arguments on July 29.

Wendy Ferrell, a spokeswoman for the AOC, said she was unable to determine Thursday whether Spokane has received approval for its system.


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