Traffic cameras proposed

If Pointe Coupee Parish Police Juror Justin Cox has his way, the parish will soon follow in the footsteps of the Baker Police Department and start using traffic cameras to catch speeding motorists on parish roads.

Cox introduced a speed enforcement plan Wednesday during the Police Jury’s Finance Committee meeting where he said the program could reduce speed-related crashes.

Cox said he wants the Police Jury to consider hiring Redflex Traffic Systems to install cameras that would take snapshots of speeding violators along various roads in the parish.

The program would be modeled after one in Baker, which contracted Redflex in 2008. The company issues traffic citations through the mail and collects the associated fine.

Cox said the citations would be classified as civil violations and wouldn’t appear on a person’s criminal record.

In Cox’s proposal, a speeder caught by camera would pay a fine of $135 per ticket.

The Police Jury would pay Redflex $30 to $35 per citation, and the remaining funds would be divided among the parish’s law enforcement and fire protection agencies as well as its 911 call center and Office of Emergency Preparedness, Cox said.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said the program has worked “extremely well” in his city, and the funds it generates helps offset the annual costs of replacing police cars.

“But this is not about making money, it’s about correcting driver behavior,” Knaps said. “When you come to Baker, you will see people put on their brake lights.”

But Cox’s proposal received a lukewarm reception at the Wednesday meeting, mainly from jury President Melanie Bueche, who told Cox the sheriff and district attorney were both opposed to the idea.

Cox fired back by calling Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres and 18th Judicial District Attorney Ricky Ward “misinformed.”

Ward and Torres said Friday during an interview in Ward’s office that their objections to the program have nothing to do with being misinformed.

Ward said they are actually “uninformed” about the proposed program and Torres agreed.

“The whole idea bothers me,” Ward said. “They’re calling it a civil matter. It’s a crime. You’re speeding. They’re saying it won’t go on a person’s record. Well then, how do they plan on enforcing this?”

Ward said the Police Jury — or Redflex — would have to file civil lawsuits to recoup unpaid fines, which could become costly.

“Are they prepared to hire an attorney for every ticket?” Ward said. “No one is going to hire an attorney just to collect $100.”

Ward said he was told unpaid citations would be handed over to a collection agency.

And that doesn’t sit well with Torres.

“For a traffic infraction, this person’s credit rating will suffer, and a lien will be placed on their assets?” Torres said. “What will become the norm in a situation like this is law-abiding citizens who receive tickets and pay for them would pay for the brunt of the program.”

Torres said Cox’s effort seems to be more about revenue than safety.

“All governments are facing financial challenges in the current economic situation,” Torres said. “Passing the burden onto the motoring public is not the answer.”

Knaps said more than 90 percent of the violators caught by Baker traffic cameras pay their citations.

“In traffic court we were lucky if 50 percent paid,” he said. “In civil court they can lose their credit rating plus our speeding fines with the photo program are so small.”

Fines in Baker for photo-tickets start at $40 while officer-issued tickets are approximately $200 for going 10 miles over the speed limit, Knaps said.

“If you want to put the photo enforcement people out of business then don’t speed,” Knaps said. “(The cameras) won’t take your picture if you’re following the speed limit.”

Juror Kurt Jarreau said the only way he could support the proposal was if Cox could show the jury data that proves there are high numbers of speed-related crashes locally.

Torres said Friday that no such data exists for Pointe Coupee.

“Most accidents occur because of other traffic infractions,” he said.