AG: Traffic camera companies violate state law by viewing footage

photo of traffic cameras.
Source: Flickr.com.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) has been on a crusade against the use of photo-enforcement cameras for many years, citing that they are illegal and that they turn the American justice system on its head. Giving a boost to Holt’s argument, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery responded to a request by Holt to opine on whether or not out-of-state traffic camera companies contracted by Tennessee cities were in violation of state law on July 6.

At the heart of Holt’s issue is the fact that out-of-state photo-enforcement companies contracted throughout the state of Tennessee have used non-law enforcement employees to preliminarily review video footage of supposed traffic violations, and they are then making determinations regarding whether a violation has occurred.

The scrubbed footage is then sent back to local law enforcement agencies with violations that are simply rubber-stamped by a POST-certified officer.

Local law enforcement agencies often claim that an officer “witnessed” the supposed violator and by placing their signature on the ticket claim to validate the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, actual law enforcement personnel have been removed from the current photo-enforcement process, with the exception of simply placing the signature of an officer on each ticket that has already been processed by rivate companies.

“The framework used by traffic camera companies in Tennessee is flat out illegal,” Holt said. “Photographic evidence of motorists is streamed from these privately owned cameras to out-of-state data centers where people with zero knowledge of Tennessee law, who you and I have never met, sit on a computer and decide whether or not to send the supposed violation back to local law enforcement officials. State law mandates that only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers shall be authorized to review video evidence from a traffic light signal monitoring system and make a determination as to whether or not a violation has occurred. How many violations do these people decide not to send back to local law enforcement? Since when were they granted the authority to enforce law in the State of Tennessee? I’m sure many Tennesseans would love to have an out-of-state friend working at one of these companies that could simply delete the footage of their violation.”

Photo-enforcement camera companies used in Tennessee, like American Traffic Solutions (ATS), readily admit that their employees review footage and decide whether a violation has occurred before sending the violations back to local law enforcement. ATS uses it as one of their central selling points to government agencies.

Slatery’s opinion states that it doesn’t matter whether or not the camera company employees are viewing the footage for a preliminary or final determination as to whether someone violated the law; by them simply viewing the footage, they are in violation of state law.

“Only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers are authorized to review video evidence from a traffic light signal monitoring system and make a determination as to whether or not a violation has occurred,” Slatery stated. “Employees of private traffic camera companies are not POST-certified or state-commissioned law enforcement officers and therefore are not authorized to review video evidence and make violation determinations.”

Holt says he hopes to see a class action lawsuit filed soon. He is also contacting district attorneys across the state to ask them to order a cease and desist on all photo-enforcement devices in the State of Tennessee that may be subject to Slatery’s opinion.