Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Photo Red Light and Photo Radar Violation Hearings (J-school Piece revised)
There was a 2:30 p.m. docket posted on the door of the City of Albuquerque’s administrative hearing room where photo red light and photo radar traffic violations where scheduled to be heard Tuesday.
The room was empty except for one man and his clerk. It wasn’t supposed to be empty.
There was little work because every case on the docket was going to be dismissed. The City had failed to schedule and hold the hearings within the 90 days as required by the Safe Traffic Operations Program ordinance.
This despite the fact there were two additional clerks positions added in the most recent city budget to staff the photo red light and photo radar violation hearings.
“But they haven’t been added,” said Assistant City Clerk Lacresia Armijo-Rivera of the Boards and Commissions Office within the City Clerks Office. She and her fellow clerks in their office carry out the extra duties while still fulfilling their primary roles of staffing other City boards and commissions. Because of the demands of such additional duties, the notices had not gone out on time, Armijo-Rivera said.
In fact she was using the time that afternoon not to handle the case docket but to catch up on a stack of hearing requests yet to be scheduled.
The delays are the result of a rapid increase in automated enforcement notices in Albuquerque.
‘We are now hearing case number 877, about an incident that occurred in May 2006,” City Administrative Hearing Officer Albert Chavez said. “The City should have gotten them notified in a timely manner, but they didn’t, so we’re dismissing them all."
“As of Sept. 26, 2006, there have been 38,446 automated enforcement citations issued,” Albuquerque Police Department’s Public Information Officer John Walsh said in an interview. That generated $2.2 million, in fees assessed to the registered owners of vehicles identified by automated cameras at intersections and from vans with radar triggered cameras.
The automated cameras take pictures of vehicles that enter intersections after the red light illuminates or when a radar unit detects speeds in excess of 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
“We now have 10 intersections with both red light and speed detection,” Walsh said. That is up from seven just last week. “Our goal is to have 20 by the end of 2006,” Walsh said.
Walsh outlined six major cost associated with the program:
1. Engineering, it cost between $10-$15,000 per direction per intersection camera.
2. Time expense for three officer’s operating the radar vans.
3. Lease of the equipment. The three vans lease cost $5,500 per month.
4. The administrative cost of administering the program provided by the contractor Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian-based company with U.S. Headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.
5. The cost of the City’s administrative hearing.
6. The cost of the police officer and equipment to review each photo to assure that a violation has occurred and the vehicle is properly identified and the officer’s presentation at the City’s administrative hearing
The program is now totally funded by violators with the exception of the seed money, which has either been recouped or is well on its way to being paid back, Walsh said.
However, not everyone thinks that idea is good. Attorney Paul Livingston has two suits pending in the state District Court for Bernalillo County. He is attempting to have them both certified as class action suits.
When the city receives a notice of a violation, its bus drivers and other employees who drive city-owned vehicles have had their pay docked, without the opportunity to be heard at the administrative hearing or to have a departmental review. They are now suing. A similar case suit, filed for two New Mexico licensed vehicles and their registered owners, raise constitutional due process and jurisdictional issues.
“The city’s use of nuisance abatement laws changes traffic offenses into something far different than traffic offenses and into something the city is unable to prove legally,” Livingston said. “This is unique. No other state county or municipality in the country has tried this approach using this nuisance abatement scheme.”
The City of Albuquerque’s STOP ordinance finds the registered owners’ vehicle a nuisance and holds the owner liable for the vehicle’s action, not their own, whether they were driving or not.
“I’m hopeful we will prevail on this as a legal matter,” Livingston said.