Westwego OKs camera speeding tickets

Automated vans will employ radar

Friday, September 19, 2008 By Allen Powell II

Westwego speeders have a new challenge to avoid after the City Council decided to use automated vans equipped with radar and cameras to write tickets.
On a 4-1 vote last week, the council passed an ordinance that allowed the city to use the automated vans to catch speeders and to also use red-light cameras to catch individuals running stoplights. The vans are being provided by Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Arizona.
The city is unlikely to get red-light cameras, because all of its intersections with stoplights are on state roads, Westwego Police Chief Dwayne Munch said.
Munch pushed for the vans as a way to deter speeding on the city's side streets, which typically have a speed limit of 20 mph. He said the speeding is still the No. 1 concern of residents in the city, and added that the van would do the work of about 20 police officers.
"I believe this van will slow people down," Munch said.
The vans will document and record vehicle speeds, and if a car is traveling faster than a pre-set maximum speed, a ticket will be created. Those tickets will not qualify as moving violations, but will have civil fines that could range from $39.75 to $250 depending on the speed of the vehicle, according to the ordinance. Once individuals receive a ticket they can just pay the fine, or challenge the ticket through parish court, Munch said.
Westwego will give Redflex $19.50 from all fines of less than $40, and $32.75 for all citations issued to individuals driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit.
The chief said he plans to have the vans issue tickets when drivers are traveling about 8 mph over the speed limit on normal side streets and 5 mph over the limit on those streets near schools and playgrounds. He said that's also the standard procedure for officers issuing tickets.
Councilman Melvin Guidry was the sole opponent of the ordinance. He said the city may be going too far in its efforts to reduce speeding, and questioned whether more cameras would really benefit average citizens. Guidry said he previously supported the city's decision to put up crime cameras in certain neighborhoods because he could see the benefit to residents, but he felt the radar vans would be just another burden on citizens. He acknowledged that speeding is a problem, but said he would prefer the Police Department to use real police officers instead of cameras.
"What are we becoming? A police state?" Guidry asked. "We're going after the hardworking people."
However, Munch and several council members said the vans will not affect individuals who follow the laws.
"Law-abiding citizens are not worried about that camera, and frankly I'm not worried about the criminals," Munch said.
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Allen Powell II can be reached at apowell@timespicayune.com and 504.826.3793.