City attorney flags traffic light cameras
By MATTHEW LeBLANC of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, February 19, 2006
It looks as if the latest push to install red-light cameras at Columbia intersections will proceed with caution.
Mayor Darwin Hindman in January asked the Columbia Police Department to gather information on the cost and effectiveness of the systems, marking the third time since 1997 police received such a directive.
However, a report from the city’s lawyer urges staff to step back from the study to examine several legal issues surrounding the systems, including a bill filed recently in the Missouri General Assembly that would ban the use of the cameras to catch drivers who run red lights.
In a report to the Columbia City Council scheduled for review tomorrow, City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said there are "serious legal problems" with the systems.
In the report, Boeckmann cites state Sen. Jason Crowell’s bill and concerns over whether the registered owner of a vehicle caught on camera running a red light should be ticketed if he or she was not driving the car at the time.
Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins and Police Chief Randy Boehm each said the legal questions should be answered before a more complete report on the cameras is submitted to the council.
But Hindman isn’t so sure. He said yesterday the pending legislation should not have an effect on whether the city should implement red-light cameras.
"If we can get a red-light camera company to take the risk … I don’t see why we should be holding it up," Hindman said.
Boeckmann’s suggestion wouldn’t stop the study, but it would slow it down. Hindman had hoped to have a report to the council by tomorrow’s meeting, though it is now likely to come after Crowell’s bill is acted upon by state lawmakers.
The legislative session ends May 12.
"At this point, it’s premature to make recommendations," Boehm said. "So, what we’re doing is taking more time."
Boeckmann said a full report would be completed, though he is unsure when.
"This was just kind of an interim report," he said. "We’re just pointing out some of the problems. We’ll follow this up."
Red-light cameras continue to be controversial in Missouri, though several other cities across the country have installed the systems. Only the St. Louis suburb of Arnold is using them in Missouri. Florissant and Springfield each have passed ordinances that allow the cameras.
Though debate continues over the effectiveness of the cameras to stop car crashes and deter drivers from running red lights, Hindman and Boehm have said they are convinced the systems would work well in Columbia.
Columbia police last year issued nearly 400 tickets to drivers for traffic signal violations, down from nearly 500 in 2004.
Crowell, a Cape Girardeau Republican, introduced his bill amid concerns that the cameras invite too much government intrusion and cited concerns that camera companies sometimes share revenues from fines.