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Use speed cameras for safety only, not money

You could cite any number of instrumental reasons why placing red light cameras around Bossier City is a bad idea – traffic enforcement performed by an outside party, questionable validity, administrative problems, constitutional issues – but the philosophical one provides the strongest argument against their installation around school zones: where is the need?

If the stalking horse no doubt to be trotted out by proponents – principally Blue Line Solutions, the proposed vendor who stands to get half of the revenues from any such operation, during the special workshop next work held for the purpose by the Bossier City Council – is safety, then they need to prove its necessity. Prove that there is a problem in school zones with speeding cars mowing down vulnerable children before taking such a drastic step.

(Actually, should this be a problem? After all, the city will pay nearly $20,000 this year to the Bossier Parish School District so that the BPSD can hire Bossier Parish Sheriff Office deputies to direct traffic during the designated hours around the two schools supposedly most in need of traffic control at these times.)

Absent a demonstration that the setup solves a safety problem, let’s understand the real motivation if proponents persist: money, or more basically, greed. It simply is another way to fleece the citizenry in, for the city, the least painful manner politically. After all, we have city officials wanting to curtail payments – in essence meaning service delivery reduced – to Shreveport’s SporTran because of what is described as an effort to keep spending down to prevent budgetary problems.

(Which seems self-defeating, because if more people are riding the bus with fewer cars on the road, there would be fewer violations in school zones which ought to make matters safer – if that was the goal. Then again, maybe that’s the point if you’re instead really interested in making a buck: more vehicles mean more opportunities to clip money.)

(And Republican Councilor Chris Smith was willing to go further than brief remarks made by Democrat Councilor Bubba Williams during the last Council meeting when the SporTran cut from $900,000 to $500,000 gained initial approval. He saw the deficit possibility as a result of debt servicing obligations that at the end of 2021 totaled $457 million or a per capita burden of $7,300, the most of any major city in Louisiana and by far higher than any peer city. So, it would seem the city’s motivation to pursue this stems from decades of reckless debt-fueled spending.)

Still, evidence indicates safety benefits from having automated speed enforcement, so the practical problems is if to have cameras to ensure they are there for safety only. Louisiana law doesn’t say much about use of such cameras, only that local governments can’t use them on state roads, so that it’s left to local governments to define.

That being the case, to satisfy constitutional requirements, prevent issuance of frivolous citations, and ensure revenue-raising for its own sake isn’t part of the equation, any city ordinance permitting speed camera use in school zones during regulated hours as a means of promoting safety must (1) mandate taking pictures both of license plates and faces (2) that must be clearly recognizable after review by a police officer verified by Bossier City’s city judge (3) from a camera proven calibrated accurately taking only vehicle and people photos only during posted times (4) subject to criminal, not civil, proceedings (5) where only the driver, positively identified, and not the vehicle owner faces prosecution, and (6) any fine resulting from a conviction after contract costs, with those costs paid only in the case of successful convictions, is remitted to a fund whose collections only may be spent on safety measures for schools in zones monitored by these cameras.

This way, the burden of proof to convict must be met by the city with full constitutional protections provided to the accused – just like if the evidence had been gathered by a sworn police officer. Moreover, the city will bear all costs past those that go to the contractor for expenses related to camera captures for convictions and any revenues past that cannot be spent on general purposes but only for school zone safety patrolled by the cameras to keep the entire exercise from being a money grab.

If this isn’t a workable deal, then any alternatives must be rejected. Otherwise, it will prove bad faith that puts fleecing drivers to fuel spending ahead of the genuine object of government’s existence, protecting citizens.

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