Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Duncanville council member wants to re-evaluate red-light camera policy

By JON NIELSEN / The Dallas Morning News

A Duncanville City Council member wants to re-evaluate how the city issues citations to red-light runners and make it easier for suspected violators to request a jury trial.

Paul Ford questions the nearly 45,000 citations issued in 2008 at four intersections monitored by cameras. Compared with Duncanville's population of 38,500, he said, the number of citations seems excessive.

Ford will ask fellow council members to vote on a proposal at tonight's council meeting that would allow suspected violators to ask for a jury trial in municipal court. But City Manager Kent Cagle said Duncanville already allows for jury trials.

Ford says his proposal will make that option more clear to suspected violators.

Ford said the majority of violators aren't ticketed for speeding through a red light or rolling through the light on a right-hand turn. They're ticketed for failing to stop at the bold white line set back from the crosswalk. He said motorists can't safely turn without inching past that line to see beyond the stopped cars and other barriers to look for oncoming traffic.

"If an individual stops safely, looks and then turns, then that should not be a violation," he said, adding that he believes jurors would side with motorists and possibly reduce the number of tickets issued.

According to Ford, the city will take in more than $3 million from citations issued in 2008.

"These tickets are not safety-related," Ford said. "They're revenue-related. Period."

But Cagle said a portion of the fines would go unpaid. He estimates that after the state takes its share, the city would receive about $400,000. That money would be used to maintain signals and make road improvements.

Anyone issued a citation can appeal the $75 ticket to an administrative law judge. In court, they will watch the suspected offense captured from the video cameras. The judge decides whether to let the ticket stand or dismiss it.

Individuals can then appeal that judge's decision in municipal court, where they can ask for a judge or a jury trial, Cagle said.

According to municipal court administrator Lee Norton, rarely do red-light camera citations reach the municipal court level. She said that since the cameras went up in June 2006, less than a dozen people have asked for a municipal court appeal. None of those have been jury trials.

"People really think they stop," Norton said. "But once they see the video, they see they didn't stop."

Cagle believes appealing to a jury would be a drain on money and time.

"If every one of these appealed went to a jury trial, I don't think we have the capacity to do it," Cagle said. "It would be an incredible waste. Each trial would take at least a couple of hours."

Ford said, however, that more jury trials could reduce the number of tickets issued.

"Jury trials act as a barrier for citations that are not justified," he said. "The end result I hope for is a much smaller number of tickets given, but issued for the right reasons."

Cagle said city staff is looking at ways to reduce the number of citations issued if there's a question whether the driver failed to come to a complete stop.

"If it's really hard to tell, don't issue a citation," Cagle said. "People that blow right through them, in my opinion, deserve a ticket."


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