NEW ORLEANS -- If you believe you were nabbed by one of the city of New Orleans' mobile traffic cameras over the past 10 days, you will get a reprieve. The city said anyone who is nabbed by the camera between Jan. 9 and Feb. 9 will just receive a warning and not a ticket.
One of New Orleans' new mobile traffic safety cameras drew a lot of attention this weekend after Orleans Levee District Police ticketed one of the unmarked units for parking on the sidewalk near Lakeshore Drive and West End Boulevard.
But, that's not what caught the eye of state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, a day before the city announced it would only issue warnings, rather than tickets, for the first month the new roving cameras are on the streets.
Carter said the small sign placed at street level behind the unmarked vehicle that warns drivers a speed camera is in use may violate a state law he authored last year.
“I don't think that they (the city) are following the law based on what we have here in the current legislation,” Carter said. “That would require signage that is very visible.”
The law requires local governments to post signs “within 500 feet of a red light camera” and “in such a manner that is clearly visible to approaching traffic.”
The law defines a red-light camera as a device “designed to collect photographic or video evidence of alleged traffic violations by recording images that depict the license plate or other identifying feature of a motor vehicle.”
“I don't believe, and I would hate to believe, that the city's intention is to violate the law,” Carter said. “I'm hoping this is just one of those cases where … they'll see they are out of compliance and they'll self-correct.”
In a written statement, City Hall spokesman Tyrone Walker said the city maintains the mobile cameras are law-enforcement vehicles that are performing a law-enforcement function.
The cameras began operating Jan. 9. The city will continue a public-awareness campaign about them, Walker said.
“As part of the public education, individuals cited between Jan. 9 and Feb. 9 will receive courtesy warning notices in the mail and will not be fined,” Walker wrote.
Meanwhile, City Councilman James Gray, a frequent critic of the city's speed and red light camera program, said the city should seek a legal opinion on whether the mobile units are in compliance with state law.
“On the face of it, there clearly is a question that some smart lawyer needs to answer,” Gray said. “I think we have some smart lawyers in the city attorney’s office.”
The city did not answer questions about whether it believes it is following state law with the warning sign placed on the road.
“I think it is something that some judge is probably going to decide and it may even go to the court of appeals to decide if it is covered by the statute,” Gray added.
He urged the city to follow the spirit and letter of the law.
“If we're going to use the cameras, I would put permanent signs up, that are clearly visible saying there is a camera here checking traffic offenses,” Gray said.
In the meantime, Carter said if there is any ambiguity in the law, he will seek to modify or tweak the legislation during the upcoming session of the state legislature.
“If the sign is obscured and not easily read, then one would naturally question do you really want to deter or do you want to write a ticket to enhance revenue,” Carter said.