Bill targets Knoxville's red-light cameras

March 14, 2007

NASHVILLE -- State legislators are questioning Knoxville's practice of using an automated camera system to ticket people alleged to have run a red light.

The discussion centers around a bill introduced by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, that would impact Knoxville's red light camera system in two ways.

First, the bill mandates that the yellow, or caution, light be set at 5 seconds at all intersections where cameras are set up to photograph motorists.

McCord said he has heard reports that the yellow lights on Knoxville's monitored intersections are set at 3 seconds to boost ticket revenue.

Another portion of the bill would forbid local governments from contracting with private companies to operate red light camera systems.

Knoxville contracts with Redflex Inc. to operate its system.

Figures from the Knoxville Police Department, read Tuesday to a House subcommittee by McCord, indicate that Redflex got $471,122 from its contract during 2006, while the city of Knoxville got $217,980.

More than 21,000 tickets were issued as a result of the cameras during the year.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Pinion, D-Union City, questioned whether it's even legal for a city to "privatize its police power" without a specific authorization bill being approved by the Legislature.

"Who authorized Knoxville to privatize their red lights?" asked Pinion. "Before long, we won't need police. We'll just privatize all of them, too."

The bill was discussed during a subcommittee meeting, but McCord delayed a vote by the panel next week. Tony Thompson, who serves as lobbyist for the city of Knoxville, told Pinion he would have answers to questions about the city system by then.

More details as they develop online and in Thursday's News Sentinel.