3/19/2013Arizona Town Has Photo Enforcement Lobbyist Conduct Audit
Prescott Valley, Arizona attempts to save photo ticketing program after cops caught dismissing tickets for family members.
In response to allegations of wrong doing with its photo enforcement system, the town of Prescott Valley, Arizona turned to industry insider John D. Wintersteen to conduct an audit. The results were published earlier this month.
In December, Prescott Valley officials had tasked Wintersteen with investigating an anonymous tip that police officers were dismissing photo radar tickets issued to family members. The allegation was taken seriously because it was copied to the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training (AZPOST) board, and the complaint turned out to be well founded. Wintersteen gathered from Redflex copies of any tickets for vehicles registered to town police officers that were rejected. In most cases, the citations were intercepted long before they could be dropped in the mail.
"It is clear from interviews of the traffic lieutenant, sergeant and corporal that incidents for which a citation could not be legitimately issued and mailed, and filed with the court, by Redflex, were in fact being 'rejected' at the first review or later in the process within the police department, on incidents involving vehicles registered to police employees," Wintersteen wrote. "Both the traffic lieutenant and sergeant confirmed to the chief that they customarily electronically 'rejected' incidents in SmartOps when they involved a vehicle registered to a Prescott Valley police officer in which the police officer was not driving."
The officers involved referred to letting off family members as being an example of "officer discretion" mirroring the special treatment afforded such drivers when pulled over by a live police officer. Chief Bill Fessler, who claimed he had no prior knowledge that this was going on, ordered the practice stopped. Wintersteen assumed this was a factual statement.
"I did not detect even the slightest indication any of the four involved in reviewing incidents or dismissing citations electronically were not being truthful; to the contrary, all four had been particularly open and relaxed during the entire interview," Wintersteen wrote.
The officers explained they never would have paid the tickets had they been mailed.
"He stated that besides police discretion as a reason all seven incidents were rejected, the main reason he rejected the incidents in which his wife was driving a vehicle registered to him is that had an NOV [Notice of Violation] been issued, he would have declined to respond to it by nominating his own wife, as is the right of every registered owner who receives a NOV," Wintersteen wrote. "Thus, he said, there was no purpose to having a NOV issued in any of the incidents."
Wintersteen has been a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions through its front group, the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Wintersteen has also lobbied the courts on behalf of Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia. As a result, Wintersteen's primary concern was the negative impact on his industry of the officers' conduct.
"It is also clear to me based on my interviews that they did not consider public perceptions of this practice, that many outside the police department would regard this practice as inappropriate and unfair, and thus potentially have an effect on public support for the photo enforcement program in Prescott Valley," Wintersteen concluded.
The report included a number of recommendations designed to increase the number of tickets issued and to collect $26 in "service fees" from motorists whose citations were dismissed.
A copy of the report is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.