Friday, December 17, 2010
Superior Court Rejects Red Light Camera Collections Criticism
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday defended itself from criticism following the Los Angeles Police Commission’s decision to adopt Police Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that an automated red light camera program be continued, even though it is operating at a loss.
A court spokesperson rejected complaints by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, that the court does not do enough to pursue collections on outstanding red light camera citations.
“The court follows the law and we feel our policy is consistent with the Legislature’s intent,” she commented.
Beck told commissioners in a report dated Nov. 30 that the program was needed to reduce accidents and save lives, despite City Controller Wendy Gruel’s recent audit finding that it lost $2.5 million over the last two years. The chief attributed lower than expected revenue from the program to the Superior Court’s decision not to use administrative tools such as a Department of Motor Vehicles hold for failures to appeal, or the assistance of the Franchise Tax Board.
The Police Protective League—pointing to Beck’s report that while annual red light citations quadrupled to 59,000 under the program, only 23 percent were collected in the last year and approximately 56,000 citations representing over $7 million in revenue remained unresolved—blasted the Superior Court following the commission’s adoption of the report Tuesday.
Calling on the court to “lend a better effort to the success of a program designed to reduce collisions and save lives,” the union’s board of directors derided concerns about proving that the person being cited—the vehicle’s registered owner—was the driver.
But a court spokesperson defended the current process on grounds of fairness.
She explained that if the court receives no response to a notice of a violation sent to the vehicle owner, the court then sends a second letter indicating that an additional civil assessment will be waived if the person resolves the unpaid citation within 10 days. If no response is received, the court then sends the matter to collections.
The spokesperson commented that the court feels a general practice of placing DMV holds would be unfair “in light of the fact that the alleged violator might not be the registered owner” in whose name the hold would be placed.
She also noted that a driver might not discover the hold until trying to renew a license years later, and said the court interpreted a 1999 law allowing for DMV notification for failure to appear on red light camera cases not to create a mandatory duty to do so.
The spokesperson declined comment on the viability of turning to the Franchise Tax Board for assistance, noting only that the court does not currently rely on that agency.
Beck in his report called the FTB “a valuable collection resource that has proved to be highly effective in other counties.” He cited the County of San Diego’s collection of $30 million in outstanding court-ordered debt through the agency in one year, and said DMV hold and FTB programs were currently being utilized for red light camera citations in San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties.
Beck’s report followed a Sept. 29 motion by City Councilwoman Janice Hahn to review Gruel’s findings and consider whether to proceed with the program. In addition to the $2.5 million loss, the city controller’s audit concluded that cameras had not improved safety and had bypassed some of the city’s most dangerous intersections.
But Beck argued that safety had increased, and he cited a 63 percent drop in red light collisions at intersections with cameras. He also said that existing cameras had been placed in order to spread them out throughout the city for “maximum public safety benefit,” commenting that “selections based on collision history alone would have placed 80 percent” of red light camera intersections in the department’s Valley and West Bureaus.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company