Thursday, February 27, 2014
Italy: Top Cop Arrested For Speed Camera Bribery
Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Andrea Saroldi, the police commander in the small seaside town of Spotorno, Italy, with extortion, bribery and fraud related to speed camera contracts. At a press conference Wednesday, Savona assistant prosecutor Daniela Pischetola announced the results of an investigation dubbed "Hot Velox" (autovelox is the Italian word for speed camera). According to Pischetola, Saroldi collected kickbacks from photo ticketing contractor, Igea srl in return for his permission to install the cameras. Igea's Claudio Ghizzoni has also been charged. According to the indictment, Saroldi also used threats of violence to extort money from Arcadia, a company that maintains road signs in the town. The owner of the sign company tipped off prosecutors last July after paying Saroldi 24,000 euros (US $33,000). The Italian National Police (Polizia di Stato) set up a sting operation and captured on video money changing hands in Saroldi's car. Saroldi would then take his squad car and spend his red light camera money in the red light district. He also used the funds to pay off gambling debts. Saroldi is currently under house arrest. Italian prosecutors have not hesitated to charge police chiefs and municipal officials with speed camera fraud. In 2012, the top cop in Pistoia was arrested for rigging the bid for a photo ticketing contract. In 2011, there were four raids that saw two police officers arrested on charges of soliciting bribes from people falsely accused of speeding. Seven were arrested in Frosinone for rigging speed camera contracts. The Guardia di Finanza announced five indictments in Brescia. A judge ruled that a group of 15 mayors, cops, speed camera company employees should stand trial on fraud charges. In August 2009, speed cameras were shrouded in black plastic as up to 200 officials faced charges in Caserta. The problems are not limited to Italy, as the mayor of St. Peters, Missouri spent a year in prison for soliciting a bribe from Redflex, the Australian red light camera company. According to former Redflex Executive Vice President Aaron Rosenberg, such conduct was expected at Redflex, which used "lavish gifts and bribes" to convince government officials to buy more speed cameras. Rosenberg is cooperating in a federal investigation into the corruption charges that first came to light in Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Missouri Supreme Court Rejects Red Light Camera Companies
Red light camera companies could be in trouble in Missouri. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to accept any of the desperate appeals filed by local municipalities and photo enforcement vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS). As a result, three Court of Appeals cases that went against the use of red light cameras become final and are the law of the land. The state House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on House Bill 1557 which would undo the rulings and rescue the camera companies from the cases brought by attorney Ryan A. Keane, Damon v. Kansas City (view decision), Unverferth v. Florissant (view decision) and Ballard v. Creve Coeur (view decision). "Today's decision means that any red light camera or speed camera ordinance that circumvents the state law requiring points be assessed for moving violations is void and unenforceable," Keane told TheNewspaper. "This is important because it confirms common sense. If camera systems are designed to promote public safety -- rather than generating revenue --, then cities cannot circumvent a public safety law. Moreover, because moving violation points must be assigned to a driver's license, city prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt who was actually driving, which they cannot do using American Traffic Solutions' camera system. Hopefully, the practical effect of today's decision will be that local governments and ATS can no longer operate their camera systems like an ATM machine." It is still possible that the high court may take up one of the two remaining appeals on the issue of photo ticketing, but that would not happen until March 25 at the earliest. Until then, a city ordinance that allows photo tickets to be issued without license points "unequivocally conflicts with the state statute and is therefore void." Aldermen in St. Peters voted last November to revise the city's red light camera ordinance to issue points with red light camera tickets, though the town is one of the few in Missouri to use Redflex. In 2006, the mayor of St. Peters was convicted of soliciting a bribe from Redflex and spent a little over a year in prison. State Representative Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair), a recipient of campaign cash from American Traffic Solutions, proposed House Bill 1557 to rescue the company from its legal troubles (view bill). The proposal would authorize the use of cameras without the issuance of license points. Floor amendments have been filed to divert ten percent of red light camera ticket profit to driver education courses. Matt Hay, former city councilman for the city of Arnold and creator of the WrongOnRed website, believes photo ticketing supporters will have a tough time even passing a bill into law and surviving the court challenges. "Unless they can pull a Hail Mary and get something through the Senate to give them cover, it looks like the cameras will be sitting there useless for many months," Hay told TheNewspaper. "Many of the contracts specify these are no points violations, so they would have to be rewritten as well, in the face of tremendous opposition. It is a poison pill of sorts at the moment, and will be interesting to see which leaders are willing to risk the wrath of their constituents to serve their ATS and Redflex patrons, and who will cut their loses, and just dispense with their now voided contract and systems altogether."
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Virginia Moves To Limit Red Light Camera Cash
Lawmakers in Virginia are moving quickly to remove the profit motive from the use of photo enforcement. On Monday, the state Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 14-1 in favor of legislation that slashes the price of a red light camera ticket from $50 to $20. The measure cleared the House of Delegates unanimously earlier this month. State Delegate Johnny S. Joannou (D-Norfolk) introduced the measure initially intending to cut the amount of the fine in half, but House committee members decided to trim an extra $5 profit from every fine, leaving it at $20. Joannou's bill also gives vehicle owners who receive a ticket the added due process of a circuit court challenge. If the owner loses a trial in district court, the bill offers the option of an appeal in circuit court. In Virginia, all traffic tickets for moving violations can be appealed to the circuit court at no extra cost in a trial de novo, which means the case is heard again as if the first trial had never happened. The state's circuit courts recognize the right of trial by jury, even for traffic offenses. Without the change in statute, the circuit court would not hear a red light camera case because the court only has jurisdiction over civil cases where the amount involved is more than $50. Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge), a long-time opponent of red light cameras, last week saw his bill to mandate that the yellow signal duration at red light camera intersections be a minimum of three seconds pass without opposition in both the state House and Senate. The measure would make no difference whatsoever, since this is already required by the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is binding on all states. In addition, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has already insisted that an extra 0.5 seconds of yellow be added at most intersections (view VDOT memo). If Joannou's measure clears the full state Senate, it will head to the desk of newly sworn in Governor Terry McAuliffe (D). That would be the first time McAuliffe has addressed the issue of photo enforcement head on. His predecessor, former Governor Bob McDonnell, was an enthusiastic supporter of automated ticketing machines who signed camera industry bills that repealed requirements that localities only install cameras at intersections where they could show a genuine safety need. Red light cameras have been controversial in Virginia. After being legal for a decade, the state asked VDOT to verify whether the devices improved safety or not. In 2007, a state report showed rear end collisions, angle accidents and injuries all increased where cameras were used (view study). A copy of Joannou's bill is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: House Bill 1040 (Virginia General Assembly, 2/24/2014)
Monday, February 24, 2014
Tennessee Supreme Court Says Cops Can Ignore Sobriety Test
The Tennessee Supreme Court decided on Thursday that the only use for roadside sobriety tests is to collect evidence against motorists, using them to convict individuals for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The high court justices overturned an appellate decision from 2012 that found a driver who passed six of the tests with flying colors should never have been arrested (view 2012 ruling). David D. Bell was arrested on May 13, 2009, even though the trial judge found no evidence of impairment in the sobriety tests when he reviewed the dashcam footage. "I honestly think that he did pretty dog-gone good on the field sobriety tests, better than most I've seen," Sevier County Circuit Court Judge Rex Henry Ogle observed. "I couldn't pass them as well as he did." On that early morning in 2009, Bell had stopped by the The Roaming Gnome Pub and Eatery located in Sevierville and had a few drinks. He made a mistake and ended up on the wrong side of the road when Sevierville Police Officer Timothy Russell came upon him. On the roadside, Bell performed the four-finger count, recited the alphabet from G to S, and identified for Officer Russell in what year he turned six. Officer Russell rated his mental acuity as "excellent." Bell also passed the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn test. Despite the performance, Officer Russell decided to arrest Bell. Bell moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that there was no probable cause for his warrantless arrest. Seeking a conviction, the Supreme Court justices looked to several other states for sympathetic rulings. "We recognize that not all courts that have addressed this question have reached the same conclusion as the Delaware Supreme Court, the Alaska Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court," Justice William C. Koch Jr wrote. "However, we have determined that the approach employed by these courts is entirely consistent with our holdings that determining the existence of probable cause to support a warrantless arrest is not a technical process. Rather, it is a process requiring reviewing courts to conduct a common-sense analysis of the facts and circumstances known to the officers at the time of arrest... we find that performance on field sobriety tests is but one of the many factors officers should consider when deciding whether to arrest a motorist for DUI or similar offenses without a warrant." The justices reasoned that under the totality of circumstances, passing the sobriety tests is insufficient to cancel out the effect of other indications of intoxication, including the smell of alcohol and a traffic violation. For this reason, the court reversed the lower court findings and agreed with prosecutors that Officer Russell had probable cause to arrest Bell for DUI and ordered the charges to be reinstated against him. The justices noted that Bell may use his performance on the sobriety tests to raise reasonable doubt of his guilt at trial. A copy of the decision is available in a 140k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Tennessee v. Bell (Tennessee Supreme Court, 2/20/2014)
Sunday, February 23, 2014
France, Switzerland: Speed Cameras Sprayed, Scorched
A vigilante destroyed a speed camera in Lugano, Switzerland at around 4:30pm on Friday. According to La Provincia di Como, the device on the via dei Circoli in Cadro had been set on fire. In Rouen, France, vigilantes used black spraypaint to disable a speed camera on the RN31 on Friday. According to 76 Actu, the message "die" was sprayed on the camera in English. The same device had been disabled last November. In Wittelsheim, the automated ticketing machine on the RN66 was sprayed with red and black paint on Thursday, L'Alsace reported. The device has been set on fire or disabled on two other occasions. In Merignac, a speed camera was set on fire last week Saturday at 1:30am. According to Sud Ouest, burning tires completely destroyed the device.