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Virginia Speed Cameras Bring in Funds Amid Lawsuits

Two cities in the Hampton Roads area with new speed cameras have raked in around $20 million in revenue since implementing the technology over the last two years.

(TNS) — Two cities in Hampton Roads with new speed cameras have raked in around $20 million in revenue since implementing the technology over the last two years.

But the legality of the processes used to issue citations and collect fees is now being questioned in a lawsuit filed by a former state legislator who says it’s not exactly what the General Assembly intended when it crafted the legislation allowing municipalities to deploy speed cameras.

Earlier this month, local attorney and former Del. Tim Anderson filed a lawsuit in the circuit courts of both Chesapeake and Suffolk that alleges the cities are improperly issuing speeding violations and allowing third party vendors to impersonate local government when collecting fees.

Chesapeake and Suffolk are two of the four Hampton Roads cities that have installed new speeding camera software in local school and work zones in an effort to deter speeding and enhance overall public safety. A dozen cameras went live in Chesapeake in 2022. Another 10 were active in time for the start of the 2023-24 school year in Suffolk, including cameras at two work zones.

Since then, Chesapeake police have issued 150,788 citations, according to information provided by the city. Suffolk has issued 167,883.

The Virginia General Assembly approved legislation in 2020 that allows state and local police to set up speed cameras at highway work sites and school crossing zones. Under that law, only motorists caught going at least 10 mph over the speed limit are ticketed.

The devices can be significant moneymakers, and cities can earmark where the revenue from fines is directed. In Chesapeake, the $9.35 million collected will go toward costs of the equipment as well as personnel costs and highway safety improvements, according to a city spokesperson. That revenue was collected between July 1, 2022, and April 16 of the current fiscal year.

As of March, Suffolk has generated $11.72 million in revenue that will be split between vendor costs and a transportation fund dedicated to roadway safety improvements for the city. Suffolk did not specify whether the citation and revenue figures provided to The Virginian-Pilot were specific to school and work zone speed cameras only. The city also operates red light and school bus cameras.

Portsmouth and Norfolk have launched similar speed camera enforcement efforts this year. Hampton is also considering installation of speed cameras.

Anderson’s clients, whom he’s representing pro bono, include an individual from Virginia Beach who received a notice of violation in a Chesapeake school zone in March and one from the city of Zuni who received a notice of violation in June in a Suffolk work zone. But Anderson said state code for school and work zone cameras in particular is specific about issuing citations with the same official uniform Virginia summons issued for other traffic infractions, which allows a violator to contest it in court. State code says that “any prosecution shall be instituted and conducted in the same manner as prosecution for traffic infractions.”

That section of the code also allows cities to contract with third-party private companies to provide the services. But Anderson said his lawsuit raises an issue with what he called the “profit policing model” that allows third-party vendors from states such as Colorado, Maryland and Ohio to collect the payment while misrepresenting themselves as the cities. He said state code as written doesn’t allow cities to delegate fines collection to the third party companies.

“So the process here is that if you’re going to get a ticket, you have to do it the same way the police do it,” Anderson told The Pilot. “That means you have to issue a Virginia uniform summons. That means you have to file it with the court. That means the accused gets a court date. That means that if the accused wants to pay it, they have to pay it to the court. And these two cities are skipping all of those steps, so that they can run a profit policing model …”

Spokespeople for both Chesapeake and Suffolk declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Anderson wants the court to find the two cities out of compliance with state code and order them to take the technology down until they are. He’s also asking that everyone who’s paid a fine so far be refunded that money since Anderson said the citations weren’t properly administered.

“(So) the specific real problem here is that, what the cities have learned very quickly, is if they bypass all of the rules, they can make millions of dollars,” Anderson said. “But if they follow the rules, they can’t operate like this because there’s not enough people in the courts.”

For cities struggling to fill vacancies in local law enforcement, such as Norfolk and Portsmouth, the new technology can be seen as a force multiplier. Norfolk has installed 19 cameras across 10 public school locations, but the city is still in a 60-day warning period set to expire next month. Violators will be charged a $100 fine once the warning period is lifted.

Portsmouth has 16 cameras, and police began fining drivers in December, issuing more than 28,000 warnings and citations since. Around half of those were issued during the warning period without fines. The projected revenue is $1.4 million, which will be used to pay the service provider and be directed to the city’s general fund to be used at the discretion of city leadership.

When Chesapeake initially installed its speed cameras, the police department said the cost was $37,000 apiece. The police department entered an agreement to pay the amount back with money collected from issued tickets. Aside from a monthly maintenance fee, police said all revenue generated by the fines after the full amount is paid back goes back into city coffers.

Anderson said he hopes the case gains enough traction to expand to other cities using similar technology and issuing citations for violations in a similar way.

“It’s not what the General Assembly intended,” Anderson said. “And you have the cities partnering with private companies out of state and they’re making millions of dollars on Virginians. The whole thing needs to be reset.”

© 2024 The Virginian-Pilot. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.