Speed camera backlog leads to hiked fines

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by Katie Moore / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on February 16, 2011 at 11:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 16 at 11:45 PM

NEW ORLEANS - The city's speed and red light camera program has a backlog of people trying to contest their tickets in writing and in the meantime, some people are getting notices that they're getting assessed late fees doubling the fine.

The cameras are strategically placed at New Orleans intersections and in fact, Canal Street alone has five speed and red light cameras.It's something Priscilla Babin knows all too well.

“Christmas Eve, went out to get the mail and in with the Christmas cards I had this lovely ticket,” said the mother of three, with one more on the way.

Babin’s citation was for a school zone speed violation at the intersection of Canal and St.Patrick. The ticket said Babin was going 27 miles per hour on December 16, 2010, but the ticket is time-stamped 3:55 p.m., ten minutes after the school zone expired. “I still got a ticket anyway,” she said.

Even though an NOPD officer is supposed to sign off on all red light camera tickets to make sure the citation is valid, Babin still got the ticket.

Instead of appearing in person, she contested the ticket by mail.

“Right now, mail-in hearings have a backlog of about a month to a month and a half. And that was mainly built up at the end of last year. We were forced to cut back hours of the hearing officers,” said Robert Mendoza, Public Works Director for the city of New Orleans.

That means the deadline for paying the ticket passes before hearing officers decide whether it's valid. Babin got a second notice a month later saying her fine had doubled.

The first number she called about the citation sent her to a call center in Arizona, then she called the city's administrative hearing center.

“So I don't have to worry that someone is going to come to my house and take my car. And they were like oh, don't worry about it and that was the best answer I could get,” Babin said.

Mendoza said it's a flaw in the traffic camera system. Staffers aren't putting tickets on hold when letters contesting them arrive. He said they do it for parking tickets, but the change still needs to be made for camera citations. “If they find you not responsible, they can immediately waive any ticket, any amount you owe plus any late penalties you've accrued,” Mendoza said.

Meaning, it's at the discretion of the administrative hearing officers to waive the late fees and fines until the change in procedure is made.

Mendoza said the administrative hearing officers are supposed to reset the clock, so to speak, after they hold hearings on the tickets.So, if someone is found in violation, they would have thirty days after the hearing to pay the fine, not thirty days from when they got the ticket.

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