Five more years of red light cameras

Baton Rouge will continue to monitor intersections with red light cameras for at least five more years — and going forward the Mayor’s Office will penalize people who don’t pay their tickets.

The Metro Council voted, 8-4, Wednesday to extend the photo enforcement program with American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona company, which has administered the Baton Rouge camera system since 2008.

Some council members took issue with the fact the city-parish has not penalized a single red light offender for a delinquent payment.

The Advocate reported in September that 40 percent, or 59,000 tickets, have not been paid and officials have done nothing to enforce payment.

Councilman Buddy Amoroso said the city-parish’s failure to enforce payment of the fines will lead to fewer people paying tickets every year.

If people aren’t concerned about paying fines, he said, then the safety benefits of the program will diminish.

“Why do people stop paying? Because payment is optional,” Amoroso said. “I’m contending that boots on the ground for traffic enforcement is a better answer.”

But William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, promised the council that his office is actively researching strategies to pursue ticket scofflaws. He said the city-parish is looking into contracting with a third-party company that seeks out people with outstanding fines and puts a vehicle boot on their car.

“Someone who doesn’t work for the city is going to put a boot on your car, and that’s legal?” said Councilman Joel Boé, expressing skepticism about the plan.

Boé said the cameras create constitutional due process concerns, because offenders receive their citations in the mail several weeks after the infraction takes place.

He added if someone other than the owner of the car is driving the vehicle while running the light, the owner still receives the ticket.

“I know there’s a process they can go through to contest it, but why should they go through that process when they were not accurately ticketed?” Boé said.

Daniel said the ticket will be dismissed as long as a person signs an affidavit saying he or she was not the driver.

Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle also said the red light ticket protocols are not very different from when an officer writes a parking ticket, because it goes to the owner of the vehicle, and the driver isn’t present for the ticket.

Representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department and EMS all spoke in favor of keeping the cameras.

“Being able to put an officer in a subdivision to deal with violent crime, while we let the red light cameras deal with that is just a better use of manpower,” Police Chief Carl Dabadie said.

Councilman Ryan Heck said many people are cited for making rolling turns at red lights, even though there are a negligible number of vehicle accident injuries stemming from people making right turns on red.

“Can we take a look at our policy, if it’s really a safety issue and not about generating money?” Heck questioned.

Daniel said a rolling right on red is still breaking the law, and right turns are dangerous to pedestrians.

“It’s hard for me to say that breaking one law is more onerous than breaking another law,” he said.

Heck, Boé, Amoroso and Chandler Loupe voted against extending the city-parish’s red light camera contract.

Council members Trae Welch, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Scott Wilson, Ronnie Edwards, Donna-Collins Lewis, Tara Wicker, John Delgado and Marcelle voted in favor of the contract extension.

In other council business, the Metro Council appointed Ben Miller, a founding partner of Kean Miller law firm, to the Capital Area Transit Board.

After multiple votes failed to garner a majority for any other candidate, the council deferred making a second appointment until a meeting on Oct. 23.

There were 27 applicants in total and there are still three open seats on the CATS board.

The other two seats are to be filled in November.

The Metro Council also approved a proposal change a portion of GSRI Avenue to Innovation Park Drive.

The name change will affect the part of the street east of Nicholson Drive, west of Gardere Lane and south of Burbank Drive.

Businesses on the street, led by LSU’s Louisiana Business and Technology Center, sought the name change to reflect the growing work of the business and technology park at LSU’s south campus area.

Other businesses and residents of the area said they wanted to separate themselves from the street name GSRI because it has a stigma related to crime problems in the area.

One company, Gulf South Research Corp., a subsidiary of the defunct GSRI company for which the street was originally named after, argued that the name change was unfair because they had strategically moved to GSRI and use the location for their branding.

The Metro Council rejected the same proposal to change the street name in January but passed it on Wednesday with only Welch, Banks-Daniel, Edwards and Wicker voting against the measure.