Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, March 24, 2014

Automatic Enforcement Cameras

Over the last decade, local law enforcement agencies have stepped up the use of technology to catch people breaking laws. There is a lot of controversy regarding the use of these devices, including constitutional concerns.

The most discussed technology is red light cameras. In Missouri, several cities have instituted these cameras to catch people running red lights. Most of the systems work exactly the same: If a light is red and the camera sees movement, it takes a picture. The pictures are reviewed by officers who then decide which incidents are actually violations. A ticket — usually around $100 — may be issued to the owner of the car.

Proponents say that red light cameras reduce accidents at dangerous intersections, and there are studies to show that. There are also contradictory studies that show more rear-end accidents as drivers brake hard to stop at the last minute. Red light cameras may indeed be a safety measure, but it is not clear whether or not they actually help, or even how much.

Opponents have a number of concerns: The constitutionality of not being able to face your accuser; the fact that the owner, not driver is penalized; and the seeming tendency for cities to use such cameras for revenue enhancement.

In the last few months, two Missouri appeals courts have ruled that current red light camera ordinances violate state statutes in that they do not assess a point penalty for moving violations. Most local cities have suspended red light cameras because of the ruling. Some are re-writing their policy to try to fit into state statute.

I have filed a bill over the last few years to re-direct all revenue from red light cameras to go to schools. If this is a safety issue, and not a back-door revenue generator as some fear, than cities can continue to use the cameras. They just won’t profit from them. This year’s bill is Senate Bill 587. I will likely add this provision to any bill trying to support red light cameras, if one reaches the Senate floor.

While the debate rages on over red light cameras, other “innovations” are being deployed. Several Missouri cities now have speed cameras; a permanent presence at a certain location. Instead of being pulled over, an owner — not the driver — will get a ticket in the mail. Less used, but now available, are cameras on school busses to catch those who pass stopped busses.

The newest innovation, deployed in Lee’s Summit and other area cities, are Automatic License Plate Readers, or ALPRs. These devices are on patrol cars, they can scan in all directions to read plate numbers, and will “ping” when a license plate match hits a warrant list. Some are also now installed in permanent locations. In the process of using these devices to catch people with outstanding warrants, data from all plates scanned is collected. I filed Senate Bill 599 to limit law enforcement from keeping any data collected by ALPRs over 30 days, except for open cases and limited access for investigators.

Not all new technology is bad, and some data collection will always be necessary. Still, your privacy is my main concern, and I will look carefully at any new collection or database to be sure it is protected. With well-known issues surrounding the National Security Agency at the federal level, and with last year’s scandal regarding data collection and sharing from the Missouri Department of Revenue, this seems to be an ongoing issue we need to keep watching.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns at any time. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions, and trying to answer any questions you may have. You can reach us by phone at 573-751-1464, or e-mail at will.kraus@senate.mo.gov.