I-Team: Lights, Camera, Frustration

Published: Feb. 15, 2013 at 12:07 AM CST|Updated: Jul. 23, 2014 at 6:05 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Since February 2008, the City of Baton Rouge has had a contract with American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, for red light cameras.

If you run a red light, ATS sends the video to the Baton Rouge Police Department, who decides whether the driver did in fact violate the law. If so, the first notice is sent out within 10 days.

"This is the notice of the violation I got in the mail," said Wade Martin.

Wade Martin was headed out of town with his motor home and car in tow in October on Scenic Highway. He said he saw the light turn red, but couldn't stop safely with the amount of weight. Even though a hearing was scheduled, he missed it because of work and simply forgot to pay the $117 ticket. Two months later, a second notification arrived in the mail.

"They added $35 to it so now its $152," said Martin.

Under the contract, the City of Baton Rouge receives 65 percent of every ticket paid after the initial notice. The camera company, ATS, gets 35 percent. If not paid in 60 days, a second notice worth $152 is sent. The city's take then goes down to 55 percent and ATS gets more, 45 percent.

Since it started in 2008, the red light cameras led to $13,355,811 in fines being assessed against motorists. The city got $8,370,771, or about $1.6 million every year, where ATS took $4,985,040.

The whole purpose of the program is to change driver behavior.

John Price is Mayor Kip Holden's Assistant Chief Administrative Officer and oversees the city's red light camera program.

Documents obtained by the I-team show a lot of drivers ticketed last year, in total, 172,965. Of those, 61.5 percent paid up, but 37.5 percent, more than a third, never paid.

"There are a number of unpaid tickets so there is a substantial amount of revenue that would be out there. The ordinance allows the city to do one of three things to enforce those penalties," said Price.

Price said while it is the city's responsibility to make sure every ticketed driver pays up, because the violation is not criminal and is only a civil violation, Price said the city is limited to three options to get its money: booting, which Price said the city has never done, send the ticket to a small claims court or a give it to a collection agency.

"It would cost the city as much to pursue the matter in time and money as to if we could collect and that's only if we could find the individual and collect against him," said Price.

So basically, if you do not pay up, rarely does the city do anything about it.

"I guess their attitude is it cost them more money to go pursue it then they're going to collect so they just let that slide. To me, that's not fair," said Senator Danny Martiny.

Sen. Martiny said if he could, he would get rid of all the state's red light cameras and he plans to propose legislation banning the programs statewide.

In the meantime, the senator said cities who have the red light camera programs need to go after those not paying at all.

"If you have the process and they get to collect that 65 percent on the easy money where they send the ticket out and the people mail in the $117, then they ought to be obligated to go out and do some of the heavy lifting and collect that money," said Martiny.

Money that Martiny said is the driving force behind the programs, not public safety, as some cities claim.

"It's calculated to me to raise money for local government. That to me is the main motivation. That's the way it's sold to local government," said Martiny. "From a public safety standpoint, it actually causes more accidents."

But Price fought back saying public safety has improved. 88 percent of people fined never get another ticket proving that the program is successful.

"I think it's one of the most successful programs Baton Rouge has," said Price.

The city's current contract with ATS comes to an end February 18, 2013. It's why Price was looking for a five-year extension, but because the city does not have statistics for all the past five years to show whether the red light cameras have been successful, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council only extended the contract until the end of this year for now.

The 9News I-team did call ATS for comment. No one returned the call, and we were told to talk to the city.

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