Most Arizona photo-enforcement cameras across the state have stopped issuing tickets since a March 16 opinion by state Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
The equipment still is up at intersections and along roadways in cities with red-light and speed cameras, including Scottsdale, Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, and El Mirage. Motorists will continue to see a flashbulb go off if they trigger a violation, but they'll receive no notices in the mail — for a few more weeks, anyway. Paradise Valley is the only exception, and continues to issue tickets.
Brnovich's opinion, which he produced after an inquiry by state Representative Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) requires photo-enforcement companies operating in the state to obtain private-investigators' licenses because they work with citizens' personal information.
The move marks a continuing effort by Republican lawmakers to try to get rid of photo enforcement. Last week, Governor Doug Ducey approved a law that bans speed cameras from highways. The new law means El Mirage must take down its revenue-producing speed camera on Grand Avenue. The small, west Valley city has a few cameras that will remain on city streets, but for now — like most others across the state — they've been rendered impotent by Brnovich's opinion.
The opinion reverses a 2010 decision by former Attorney General Terry Goddard that came to exactly the opposite conclusion. As the older ruling explains, the state has strict private-investigator licensing rules intended to thwart "unscrupulous and unqualified investigators." However, as Goddard wrote, the public doesn't need those protections from photo-enforcement companies because the companies can't be hired by the public for private purposes. He added that the state Department of Public Safety provides oversight and regulation of the companies.
Brnovich's new, superseding opinion, though, says the "plain language" of state law defines P.I.s as people who collect "evidence to be used ... in the trial of civil or criminal cases and the preparation therefore." The law exempts 11 occupational categories from the license requirement, (including news reporters), but photo-enforcement operator isn't one of them. Goddard's opinion wasn't good, Brnovich wrote, because it is "contrary to the text of Arizona’s licensing statutes."
In most cities that use the services, the equipment is owned by the companies. Police departments allow the firms to access the Nlets database, a national computer system that stores driver's license information. The third-party contractors use that information to match a motorist to his or her photo-enforcement picture, then send the data on the violators back to the cities, which enter it into the court system.
Paradise Valley, a client of Redflex's, is using police officers to do the identification for now. PV Town Manager Kevin Burke told the Paradise Valley Independent last week that the system now takes up more staff time, but that the town still is prosecuting citations.
Redflex and ATS intend to solve the problem by obtaining P.I. licenses from the DPS as soon as possible.
"We are in the process of finalizing our application and expect to have it completed and submitted tomorrow," Charles Territo, spokesman for ATS, told New Times this week. The company, headquartered in Mesa, has been doing business in Arizona for 30 years and doesn't intend to stop now, he said.
Redflex is doing the same thing. Michael Cavaiola, Redflex spokesman, says the company has applied for a P.I. license, noting that the DPS website says applications will be processed in 15 business days. The company is asking for two licenses: one for the company, and one for an employee. Only one person needs to be the "primary private investigator," and other employees will fall under that employee's oversight, Cavaiola said.
"Our intention is to continue business in Arizona consistent with the law," he said.
Redflex thinks Brnovich's opinion is incorrect, Cavaiola said. No other states, many of which have P.I. laws similar to Arizona's, demand a P.I. license for photo-enforcement operators.
Whether cities resume photo enforcement if the P.I. licenses are obtained isn't yet known.
"While we are reviewing the Attorney General's opinion, the city of Scottsdale has suspended photo enforcement while we determine how to continue the program in compliance with state law," says Mike Phillips, city spokesman.
No, that doesn't mean you should treat Pima Road like a drag strip, now that its north Scottsdale speed camera isn't sending tickets. But at least for a few weeks, you don't have to duck under the dashboard if you're going 11 miles per hour over the speed limit on Pima Road.
If the systems do go back into effect, motorists still can try to escape the tickets by ignoring mailed notice violations. The violations ask motorists to sign a waiver for proper process service under the law, and failing to sign it forces cities to send process servers to a violator's home.
If the ticket isn't served, it's not valid and is erased without penalty 120 days after the ticket enters the court system. Scottsdale, however, often uses a court-ordered alternative service, in which tickets can be left at someone's front door if the city feels the violator is trying to dodge the server.
Redflex has other troubles to worry about, too: Its former CEO, Karen Finley, pleaded guilty to bribery last year in Ohio federal court and is scheduled to be sentenced in May.
Cavaiola says the company is moving past the scandal. Redflex has "cleaned house" and has "brand-new management in place."
Still unclear, however, is whether the bribery scandal ever affected Arizona cities, as former company Vice President Aaron Rosenberg claimed in the case. City officials have roundly denied any shenanigans in their photo-enforcement contracts.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.