Articles

Missouri, Kansas City Reconcile Red-Light Camera Ticketing Issues

The state’s high court ruled Tuesday that the way Kansas City and other cities had been handling red-light camera tickets conflicted with state law and was invalid.

by Lynn Horsley, The Kansas City Star / August 19, 2015

(TNS) -- Following new guidelines from the Missouri Supreme Court, Kansas City is likely to re-establish red-light cameras at its most dangerous intersections, officials said Tuesday.

The state’s high court ruled Tuesday that the way Kansas City and other cities had been handling red-light camera tickets conflicted with state law and was invalid. The cities had been treating the violations like parking tickets, without deducting points from a violator’s drivers license.

The court’s rulings from St. Louis and St. Peters, Mo., indicated that the violations should be considered moving violations. So the red-light camera company serving many Missouri cities, including Kansas City, said that the cameras would have to capture the driver’s photo, something their technology allows them to do.

In addition, the citation would result in points being taken off a license.

Troy Schulte, city manager for Kansas City, said in an email to The Star that he would likely recommend restarting the city’s red-light camera program in a way that conforms with the high court rulings. Kansas City’s red-light camera enforcement was suspended in November 2013 because of conflicting lower court rulings and legal uncertainty over the proper enforcement approach.

“We are still reviewing the ruling,” Schulte wrote, “but I will most likely recommend re-establishing the cameras at our most dangerous intersections. While there are significant new policy discussions that the council will have to consider, I still feel and the data clearly shows that the cameras had a significant positive impact on traffic safety.”

Kansas City began its red-light program in 2009 and for several years had 29 cameras at 17 of the city’s most treacherous intersections. The program peaked in August 2009 with more than 11,000 citations that month. But by December 2009, it had dropped to 4,000 a month.

The annual total dropped from more than 50,000 in 2010 to 33,150 in 2012, the last full year of enforcement. The program netted about $2 million a year in fine revenue for Kansas City, after the camera vendor was paid.

A Kansas City police report in May 2012 concluded that the red-light cameras had positively affected driver behavior, resulting in fewer violations and fewer wrecks at those intersections. The cameras in a few instances also provided video evidence to help solve violent, gun-related crimes.

Mayor Sly James said Tuesday he would want to know more about the safety impacts of the cameras before he decides how to proceed.

“I’ve got to get the facts, information and data,” James said, adding that he will confer with the city manager and police.

St. Louis officials on Tuesday that they will work to prepare a new ordinance that complies with the court’s rulings, because they too believe red-light cameras help reduce hazardous driving and are a crime-solving tool.

St. Louis said the rulings make clear that cities must apply a more rigorous burden of proof in their camera prosecutions. That means capturing photos of the drivers.

American Traffic Solutions, the camera company serving St. Louis, Kansas City and numerous other Missouri cities, does provide face shots in Colorado, Arizona and California, and officials said it can meet that requirement in Missouri.

“After much anticipation, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the validity of using photo and video evidence in the enforcement of speeding and red-light running violations,” said Charles Territo, senior vice president of communications for ATS. “We look forward to working with communities throughout Missouri to restart their safety programs in full compliance with the direction provided.”

The showdown before the Supreme Court pitted Missouri cities that believed the red-light cameras improved public safety against critics who said the programs don’t follow state law.

The key question was how cities could properly cite motorists for red-light camera violations. Could the violations be treated like parking tickets without points, as the cities were doing, or did they have to be reported as moving violations, as the critics said state law required?

In one of several rulings Tuesday, the court majority found that, because the ordinance in St. Peters, Mo., created a moving violation for which state law required the assessment of two points against the violator’s driving record, that portion of the ordinance stating that no points would be assessed violated state law and was void.

Kansas City’s program also treated red-light camera violations like a parking ticket and assessed no points.

In another ruling involving the city of St. Louis, the court majority found that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it shifted the burden onto the defendant to prove that the defendant was not operating the motor vehicle at the time of the violation.

Some defendants in Kansas City had also complained that they had to go to court to show that they were not the motorist when the ticket was issued.

When the cameras are set up to take a face shot of the motorist, it is much easier to identify who is driving the vehicle.

The Supreme Court heard arguments back in December. The issue went to the high court after lower courts issued conflicting rulings, and cities were unsure what was legal for them to enforce.

Chris Hernandez, spokesman for Kansas City, said Tuesday that Kansas City had quickly stopped issuing red-light camera violations when the legal uncertainty arose.

Hernandez also pointed out that Kansas City’s red-light camera vendor, ATS, had already participated in the settlement of separate class-action lawsuits over the fines assessed to red-light camera violators. The settlement provided $20 refunds to eligible claimants who applied for those refunds after paying $100 fines per violation. The refunds were issued earlier this year, and the settlement has been finalized.

©2015 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.