Cities continue to rake in the cash with school zone speed cameras, a public-private partnership that draws the ire of the public in what seems like perpetuity.
The placement of privately-owned speed detection cameras in cities across the state continue to assist cities in generating revenue with little to no effort or investment.
How do they do it?
Passing off the responsibility to private for-profit businesses that fine drivers for otherwise criminal traffic offenses.
How School Zone Speed Cameras Work
The cameras may only be used in a school zone. There is no investment by the city or county, as the company installs the equipment.
Drivers who exceed the speed limit are captured on camera. Unlike red light cameras, which depict a picture of the driver, speed zone cameras snap a photo of only the license tag with a remotely operated device, which uploads to the private company’s database. A certified peace officer approves the violations based on the license plate capture and the private company issues a violation notice. Payment is collected and the city receives a check (usually 55-70%) and the private company keeps the rest.
Rules for violation times vary by jurisdiction. Some cities will issue violations all 24/7/365 while others limit the enforcement to school hours during school months.
The entire process is authorized under OCGA 40-14-18, which was approved via HB 978 in 2017. The law took effect on July 1, 2018.
How It’s Working in Southeast Georgia
Quite well, most would say, when considering the infusion of cash into small cities.
The Georgia Virtue filed a number of Open Records Requests across cities that utilize the cameras.
City of Richmond Hill
Size: 24.46 sq mi
Cost of Speeding Ticket: $100
Blue Line Solutions receives 35% of each fine amount with the City of Richmond Hill receiving 65%.
City of Vidalia
Size: 18.26 sq. mi
RedSpeed, LLC receives 33% of each fine with the City of Vidalia receiving 67%.
City of Bloomingdale
Size: 14.05 sq. mi.
Violation Amount: $100 for 1st offense, $150 for subsequent
62.5% to the city and 32.5% to BLS. 5% of the revenue to the school system from its share, per a MOU signed between Bloomingdale and the Savannah-Chatham Public School System.
City of Stillmore
Size: 3.2 square miles
Cost of Speeding Ticket: $196
Cost of School Zone Camera Violation: $75.00
RedSpeed, LLC receives 33% of each fine with the City of Stillmore receiving 67%.
Previous coverage on The Georgia Virtue on Stillmore’s
use of speed cameras in school zones.
Issues with Unmanned School Zone Speed Cameras
Because the infraction is handled under an administrative process, you have no right to face your accuser, as you do with moving violations, citations, and criminal offenses.
Calibration of Cameras and Equipment
Unlike handheld radars calibrated and tested before each use by law enforcement officers, speed cameras rely solely on a ‘self-check’ system. The company otherwise manually checks the calibration of the detectors once to twice annually. There is no guarantee the machine is operating accurately. The City of Hamilton recently dismissed month’s worth of citations after discovering the radar did not work properly.
Impact on Financed Vehicles
RedSpeed Georgia, Blue Line Solutions, LLC, and other similar companies have the ability to place a lien on the vehicle associated with the tag captured in the photo. Under the terms and conditions of most financed vehicles, a second lien on a vehicle impairs the security interest of the first lien holder – the financier – which can initiate the repossession process. That means your failure to pay a violation (not a moving violation or a citation) can trigger your vehicle being repossessed.
No Paper Records in the Possession of the Governing Body
The sophisticated system is external and cloud-based. Violators pay tickets directly to the private entity through an online porta visible by city police, the clerk of court, and the municipal judge.
Contracts outline that companies provide data to the city during ‘normal working hours’ with the exception of trade secrets and ‘information not reasonably necessary for the prosecution of citations.’ The companies are also allowed to charge the cities for the information, which would otherwise ‘belong’ to the city.
Affidavits for Dismissal or Civil Acquittal
Affidavits may be submitted if an individual requests a hearing in municipal court on the premise that the individual can suggest or prove another person was driving the vehicle at the time of the captured picture. Sworn affidavits, however, require a notary, which requires preparation ahead of court. Any other defense in a hearing in municipal court would require self-representation or representation by an attorney…for the violation of $75-$150. For most, that is not practical.
The companies provide no proof that the cameras are only collecting data of violators.
Access to Data
Motor vehicle databases and records accessed by the Georgia Department of Revenue are otherwise sealed from public record and available only by subpoenas from attorneys and other officers of the court. If a citizen or a member of the media wanted access to the database for any particular reason, the release of the data would be shielded under the Georgia Open Records Act. These companies have access to public safety databases, much like towing companies do. As a result, they act on behalf of the law enforcement agency.