'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls

by TChris

Elected city officials feel pressure to respond to constant constituent complaints about neighborhood drivers who speed or try to make it through an intersection as the light is turning red. The officials sometimes designate "traffic enforcement days," where officers are diverted from their routine duties and assigned to set up speed traps or watch for red signal violations. But it doesn't make sense to divert officers from more pressing duties for long periods of time, and cities don't want to spend the money to hire more traffic cops.

Some elected officials have responded to this dilemma by substituting cameras for cops. The cameras record violations and appropriate tickets are sent to the vehicle's owner. The idea works if the camera actually captures the driver's face, and if the driver is also the car's registered owner, but without a face shot, it's difficult to prove that the owner was actually the offending driver.

Minneapolis thought it would be clever to declare vehicle owners to be the presumptive drivers, while shifting the burden to the owner to prove that he or she wasn't the person who ran the red light. As the result of an ACLU of Minnesota challenge, Minneapolis has learned that it can't dismiss so readily the presumption of innocence, even in a traffic case.

Here's the legal analysis, as presented by the ACLU of Minnesota:

In its brief, ACLU-MN argued that in Minnesota petty misdemeanor prosecutions, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that an individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; however, the Minneapolis ordinance relieves the prosecutor from the burden to prove that the owner was actually the driver of the vehicle that was photographed going through the red light.

In addition, State law prohibits local traffic regulations from being in conflict with state law. The Minneapolis ordinance conflicts with state law because it shifts liability for traffic light violations from the driver to the owner. During the 2001 and 2003 Legislative Sessions, the Minnesota Legislature considered and rejected bills that would have allowed local governments to use automated cameras to enforce traffic regulations.

The broader privacy implications of having the government photograph our every public (or quasi-public) move is discussed in this neat article from Minnesota Public Radio. Here's an example of a Photo Cop photo, also courtesy of MPR.

Minneapolis now has a bunch of expensive cameras -- it apparently paid a half a million or so -- and no revenue stream from Photo Cop-issued citations to pay for them. Not to mention the headache of sorting through all the people who have pending Photo Cop tickets.

More than 7,000 people whose tickets are pending will be sent a letter informing them to hold off on payment until the city makes its next step, said Chief District Judge Lucy Wieland. Another 3,000 people whose licenses were suspended because of a Stop on Red ticket will regain driving privileges. It wasn't clear Tuesday what the process would be for returning licenses.

Maybe Minneapolis should have thought of this before deciding to ignore the law.

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    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 01:32:11 PM EST
    This exact scenerio occurred to me on the thread a few days ago about allowing 911 calls to be admissable evidence w/o the caller him/herself testafying. It seems to me you can't cross-examine a 911 tape any more than you can a "Photo Cop" photograph. Maybe the lawyers here have some insight...

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 01:33:39 PM EST
    Thank you ACLU. State sponsored extortion by camera must be stopped. There are legitimate reasons to speed and run red lights...a medical emergency for example. Cameras can't differentiate, human beings can. If the state wants to pad the coffers with traffic fines, let them do it the old fashioned way...with a living, breathing officer of the law.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#3)
    by swingvote on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:00:42 PM EST
    DC has the same setup, but they make no bones about the fact that it is primarily a revenuing scheme. If you car is photographed by the speed camera, you are guilty unless you can prove not only that you were not the driver, but that the car had been stolen at the time. Loan your car to someone else and have them get photographed, the ticket is yours.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#4)
    by roxtar on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:12:15 PM EST
    When it's Mr. and Mrs. America whose rights are being violated, it's an easy call for the local judge to wax elequent about rights. When the cops kick down the door of a suspected drug dealer and kill his dog......well, not so much.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#5)
    by Joe Bob on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:40:47 PM EST
    Two points: 1)Minneapolis partnered with a private company to set up the Photo-Cop program. The company provides and operates the cameras, the city processes the violations and shares a portion of the revenue with the company. So, someone is still stuck with a bunch of cameras just not the City. 2)Just a point of interest: Say you're the owner of a car, you loan it to your wife and she runs a photo-cop red light and you get a ticket. You can avoid the ticket by indentifying the actual driver of the car at the time. What about spousal privilege? Could you then say, 'I wasn't the driver but I can't tell you who it was?' I actually heard someone bring up this scenario in the local news.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#6)
    by BigTex on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:44:21 PM EST
    Texas in general, and Houston specifically have circumvented this problem by making the fines civil in nature and not criminal. This leads to the same problems as was happening when the offences were categorized as criminal. People who are not driving their vehicle are being cited. The solution to speeding in neighborhoods is speed bumps. Not stop signs which are oft ignored. Not diverting a LEO at random miniscule intervals to nail people. Of course counties won't install speed bumps because they don't bring in revenue to the county. The real problem underlying this manner is the citations bring in money to the county, this should be changed. When I worked for the government and we issued fines, the money didn't go back into our coffers, though I don't remember exactly where it went. I think general revenue. States need to enact legislation that would prohibit a governmental orginazation from benefiting from citations it gives. Suddenly effective remedies not involving the legal system will come in place.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:48:26 PM EST
    Tex, that is apparently the case in my town. Supposedly revenues from traffic tickets written by local LEOs goes to the state (CA).

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#8)
    by swingvote on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 02:52:58 PM EST
    BigTex, Portugal, and possibly other European countries) has an interesting operation that forgoes even the speedbumps. When you approach a town in Portugal, there is a sign which reads "Velocity Control Ahead" (albeit not in English). In the town, there is a stoplight, even if there isn't a cross street (many towns in Portugal are along small roads, not at intersections of roads). If you approach the light within the speed limit, the light stays green and you can drive right through town. If you are driving too far above the speed limit (experience says about 5 mph or more) the light turns red and makes you stop. It then lets you sit there for about 20 seconds, and then the light turns green again and you are free to go. (They also have police, but I've never seen anyone pulled over for speeding in Portugal, and on the main highways high-speed driving is almost a blood sport. I've had people draft me at 120 as if we were running a NASCAR race). I know that one could easily say that people will just run the light, but my experience has been that most people quickly accommodate themselves to the system and slow down to the speed limit as they approach town, pass through town at the limit, and speed up once they leave town. I've often wondered why we don't do something similar here.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 03:41:31 PM EST
    The solution to speeding in neighborhoods is speed bumps.
    That would reduce speeding, but speed bumps are hell on your car. The Portugal thing is interesting....I don't see a downside to that one. I know I'm a broken record, but I sincerely believe this is about revenue, not safer driving. Our local governments seem to think the answer to everything is a fine or punishment.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 05:11:25 PM EST
    I guess I'm biased in favor of using the camera's, because I live within 100 yards of the worst intersection in my state for both the number of accidents and the number of fatalities. They've installed the strobes in the reds and have a painfully long delay between light changes but still there are accidents there daily (mostly nightly). 3 people have died there just since Jan 1. Because the intersection is so large (6 straight lanes either way on one road and 4 each way on the other, each with 2 turn lanes) and there are no places a police officer can park to observe the intersection and be able to nab offenders the only way anyone will ever get a ticket for running it is with the cameras. Our city has already installed the cameras 2 years ago but the state has nixed the idea, so they are not in use. The fact is, the cameras do reduce red light running. Every serious study has shown that they do. I'm a longstanding aclu member and I don't like them being used for speeding like they are on federal properties, but I don't have a problem with the photo-red cameras as long as it doesn't count as a moving violation. If someone borrows my car and illegally parks and gets a ticket, I owe the ticket, not the driver. Of course any friend or family of mine that I would lend my car would pay for it, they aren't legally liable for it in the end, I am. I don't think this is any different.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#11)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 06:37:31 PM EST
    I must admit I've got mixed emotions, too, Monsieur Culotte. I've got a couple of horrendous intersections near me and they're not even in the top 10 in the State, so it's gonna be awhile before they get fixed. 1966 intersections with 2006 traffic volume. Columbus Day Weekend when the Leaves are at their peak is always a blast. However, I am my Father's Son which means I never come to a complete stop unless it's absolutely necessary and 3 generations of us said the yellow light meant speed up and clear the intersection on the written test, so I'd hate to pay 150 bucks for some ticky-tack foul when nobody was within a half a mile of me in any direction. It should be to prevent accidents and to nail real offenders, not to nitpick.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#12)
    by Che's Lounge on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 06:58:42 PM EST
    Date: 03/22/2012 List: Traffic violations Name: Lounge, Che's Lic plate: 2XXX123 The following is an itemized list of moving traffic violations for the period 2/04/12 - 3/04/12. Photographic documentation is on file at your local police dept. 2/04/12 Camera #3898. Failure to stop at a sidewalk prior to exiting a parking lot corner 5th and Market St, Smithville, CA. Fine: $75.00. (That is a true traffic violation) 2/13/12 Camera #2244. Failure to come to complete stop at four way stopsign corner Adams Lane and Pritchard St. Jone's Landing, CA. Fine: $125.00 3/02/12 Camera/timing system #1001. Speeding. 74mph in posted 65mph zone. Timed on US Interstate 5 southbound one half mile north of Main St. exit (#344), San Androgynous, CA. Fine: $250.00 Please make all chacks payable to: Fourth Reich Department of Traffic Surveillance. Have a nice day!

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#13)
    by BigTex on Wed Mar 22, 2006 at 07:40:23 PM EST
    SUO good to hear. Do you know how the citation rate in your hometown comapires to other areas? You are being sarcastic Che, but that day is already here in Texas. It's in the form of a driver surcharge for violating traffic laws. Here's the pertinate snippets of the process.
    Two points for a moving violation conviction in Texas or that of another state.
    Three points for a moving violation conviction in Texas or another state that resulted in a vehicle crash.
    DPS will assess a surcharge when the driver accumulates a total of six points or more on their record during a three-year period. The driver must pay a $100 surcharge for the first six points and $25 for each additional point.
    A first-time DWI results in a $1,000 surcharge, paid annually for three years. A second-time DWI results in a $1,500 surcharge, paid annually for three years. The charges are cumulative. For example a driver could pay $1,000 as a result of their first DWI and an additional $1,500 for their second DWI, paying a total of $2,500 annually
    A conviction for driving while license is invalid or failure to maintain financial responsibility results in a surcharge of $250, paid annually for three years. A driver who is convicted of driving without a valid license receives a $100 per year surcharge for three years.
    DPS will notify the offending driver of the assessment of a surcharge on their license, via first-class mail. The notice will state the surcharge must be paid. Drivers who do not pay their surcharge within 30 days after the notice is sent will have their driving privileges revoked. The license will remain revoked until the person pays all surcharges and related costs, such as service/collection fees.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 09:43:26 AM EST
    SUO good to hear. Do you know how the citation rate in your hometown comapires to other areas?
    Tex, citation rates of LA County sherrifs vs. LAPD? Hard to say, although this exact issue (tickets/revenue/etc.) has been a hot topic in our local paper for over a month now. In fact, there are 4 "letters to the editor" in this week's paper about it (just received today). Apparently, according to the top dog of our local sherrif's office, he's directed the deputies to step-up enforcement for almost a year now. I don't remember if he gave a reason why. In last week's paper, or the week before, he said that ticket revenues go the state. Although I would imagine the sherrif's dept. gets most, if not all, of it's money from the state. And CA's state finances are not so great these days, so maybe the stepped up enforcement is Schwartzenegger's idea...

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#15)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 09:43:53 AM EST
    Kdog.... I know I'm a broken record, but I sincerely believe this is about revenue, not safer driving. There is absolutely no doubt about that! I was stopped in Indiana yesterday... nice open road, no traffic, sun was shining. Comming back from a biz mtg and cruisng along talking with my co-worker. I was stopped for doing 80 in a 60. Now, the very nice officer, told me if I wanted to 'pay a larger fine' I could go on a 'probation' and if not ticketed again in 6 months, this ticket would not go on my record. Now, does this sound like they are concerned about my (or anybody else's) safety? Or... getting a few more $$$ in their coffers?

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#16)
    by Johnny on Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 01:56:36 PM EST
    Holy cow BB, if I tried initiating that scheme with an officer, he would arrest me for bribery!

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#17)
    by Patrick on Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 02:25:44 PM EST
    SUO, Your county Sheriff's Deparment gets its money from the county general fund monies which are under the direct control of the Board of Supervisors.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#18)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Mar 23, 2006 at 02:44:28 PM EST
    Makes sense Patrick, thanks.

    Re: 'Photo Cop' Gets Fired in Mpls (none / 0) (#19)
    by Johnny on Fri Mar 24, 2006 at 03:55:39 AM EST
    The more I think about it, the more pi$$ed I am that the burden of proof is alowly being transferred from the accusor to the accused in this country. Red light camera's are just another method for the state to prey upon those that do not know their rights. Any way you look at it, the burden of proof falls upon the owner of the vehicle. And that is wrong.