Criminal Justice

City Council supports reinstatement of New Orleans red-light camera system

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

Update: The council voted today 6-1 in favor of the cameras. Councilman Jon Johnson was the lone dissent. He complained at length about a camera on Read Boulevard in the eastern New Orleans, in his district. He said the camera isn’t properly marked and that he’s received hundreds of constituent complaints about it. He said even if it deserves to be there, it shouldn’t operate around the clock.

All seven New Orleans City Council members are likely to vote Thursday to reinstate the city’s controversial traffic cameras.

The Lens and our partners at Fox8 discussed the upcoming vote with each member over the past two days. Six said they would vote in favor of the cameras, while Council President Arnie Fielkow said he is supportive of the idea but wants to consider input before voting.

An ordinance is before the council that will move the red-light and speed cameras under the purview of the New Orleans Police Department, rather than the Public Works Department, where it is now.

The use of the cameras was suspended last week after the state Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said the City Charter allows only the police department to enforce traffic regulations.

Cameras like these will again be activated to identify and ticket red-light runners if the council approves an ordianance Thursday. Photo By Matt Davis

Attorney Ed Washington filed a lawsuit against the use of cameras in September, on behalf of his wife and three others.

Civil Court Judge Paulette Irons sided with Washington on Oct. 1. and banned the city from using the cameras to issue more tickets.

However, the Supreme Court let the city use the cameras while the city drafted its appeal.

The city argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that Irons had misread the city’s Home Rule Charter because there is a line letting the mayor assign new duties to the Public Works Department. Also, not having traffic-enforcement cameras “immediately puts at risk the lives of the public,” City Attorney Nanette Jolivette Brown wrote.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s appeal on Oct. 27, forcing the city to stop issuing tickets based on the cameras.

But the city already had been drafting a workaround.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson filed an ordinance two weeks ago seeking to place the traffic cameras under the New Orleans Police Department’s jurisdiction.

That means Washington’s complaint would no longer be valid, and the city could start issuing traffic tickets once again.

Council members had different reactions, though most have reached the conclusion of voting for the move. The council meeting begins at 10 a.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

“I think this is about giving the citizens due process,” councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said. “I’d be really happy if we can get a camera in front of the car, and behind the car, so we can make sure the person driving the car is the person who gets the ticket.”

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer even copped to getting a ticket herself.

“I’m supportive,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said. “Do I like it? No. Have I been caught? Yes. But I think this is the best thing for public safety.”

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  • Owen Courreges

    I’m sick of hearing that these cameras are about “safety.” Studies show that the safety improvements from traffic cameras are questionable, with some showing improvement and others none. The problem is that while the cameras cut down on on t-bone accidents, they increase rear-end collisions. In many cases, the outcome is a wash, or intersections actually become more dangerous.

    The only thing that traffic cameras clearly produce is revenue, which creates perverse incentives for governments. In New Orleans, the cameras were first only installed at intersections with yellow light times equal to or exceeding four seconds. Later, the city started putting them at intersections with shorter yellow light times. Although increased yellow light times have been consistently shown to reduce accidents, the city has been keeping yellow light times short. And why shouldn’t they? To do so would be to kill the golden goose.

    Finally, I’m amused to hear that Hedge-Morrell is concerned about ticketing the driver. If she were really concerned about “due process,” she would withhold her support for the traffic cameras until the city required that the driver be the person cited. As the situation is now, the owner of the car is jointly liable for the ticket whether they were driving it or not. This adds a needless penalty to loaning out your car – you could be stuck with a ticket even if you did nothing wrong.

    Furthermore, the concern for due process rings hollow when one considers that these tickets are reviewed by the parking authority, which is the ultimate kangaroo court. The city’s hearing officers, who serve as both prosecutor and judge, will uphold any ticket irrespective of the evidence presented. It is truly “guilty until proven innocent.”

    But then again, who cares about the rights of citizens when a revenue stream is threatened? Not the city council, it seems.

  • This is not about safety , it is all about
    revenue ! I know the city needs revenue
    but it is unfair to obtain it in this manner .
    This issue should be put before the voters
    to decide if you really wanted to be fair .
    If you research this subject , you will find
    this program in other parts of the country
    are being discontinued ! THEY ARE NOT
    WORKING ! Please don’t ram this down
    our throats !
    M.D.Navarre Jr.

  • I think the camera ticket situation is just a way for the city to collect money. If safety is such a big issue they should be fixing the huge holes that are in the whole city. This is just ridiculous and down right robbing. All about a dollar!

  • M. Brooks

    If it was about safety, the placement of them would be in different locations. They are placed in the areas where the taxpayers frequently travel, not necessarily where speed or red light violations are excessive. Put one at MLKing and Claiborne if its about safety.