Arizona Photo-Enforcement Firms Speed to Meet Attorney General's P.I. License Requirement

The two photo-enforcement companies that operate in Arizona have obtained private-investigator licenses from the state in order to comply with last month's opinion by the state Attorney General's Office.

On March 16, AG Mark Brnovich issued his opinion that photo-enforcement companies need P.I. licenses to handle "evidence to be used ... in the trial of civil or criminal cases and the preparation therefore." Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, and nearly every other city and town around Arizona that uses photo enforcement stopped their operations soon after. The cameras might continue to flash, but no one's getting ticketed. (The sole exception: Paradise Valley, where sworn officers compare driver's license photos with photographic evidence from city's speed and red-light cameras. PV Town Manager Kevin Burke didn't return a message from New Times seeking comment.)

Some or all of the systems might be back online in a matter of weeks, however.

Soon after Brnovich handed down his opinion, Redflex and American Traffic Solutions applied for P.I. and P.I. agency licenses with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Commander Damon Cecil, DPS spokesman, tells New Times that both companies have obtained their agency licenses. DPS computer records confirm that the state issued the Redflex license on April 21 and the ATS license five days later.

Representatives of both firms say they're in the process of obtaining licenses for individual employees who handle the data. After those licenses are issued — possibly by the end of May, judging by the speed at which the agency paperwork materialized — the cameras could be reactivated.

"We will work with our customers on a process and procedure that complies with the attorney general's opinion," said Charles Territo, spokesman for ATS, which provides services for Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tucson.

Chandler Police Commander David LeVoy, who helps oversee that city's Redflex-affiliated photo-enforcement program, said officials believe that P.I. licensing is the only requirement the company must satisfy to comply with Brnovich's opinion. But he couldn't say with certainty that the city will reactivate its camera system as soon as all required personnel are licensed. City officials will meet soon to discuss whether the company has achieved full compliance and to decide when the enforcement program can be restarted, he said.

Mike Phillips, Scottsdale city spokesman, says his city "is still awaiting confirmation that ATS has met the state requirements and received a P.I. license. Until that is confirmed, the city can’t comment on the next steps in its photo-enforcement process.”

Officials with El Mirage, Mesa, and Phoenix didn't return messages left on Friday.

The DPS website shows that the agency licenses cost the companies more than $1,400 each. The two-page application requires the agency to provide the name of a person who is qualified to work on investigations and who must also undergo an FBI background check. 

Redflex spokesman Michael Cavaiola said Edward Tiedje, a senior staff member and a former police officer, is the qualifying party for the company's license. Tiedje will oversee the employees who obtain the subordinate licenses, each of which requires a background check and $72 in fees. 

The question of whether the companies needed P.I. licenses was addressed back in 2010 by then-AG Terry Goddard, who concluded that the licenses weren't required. This year, Republican lawmakers targeted photo enforcement in several ways: They passed a bill — signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey — banning speed cameras from state highways, which spurred El Mirage to eliminate its camera along U.S. 60. They tried but failed to pass a bill banning photo enforcement completely. And State Representative Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City asked Brnovich for a new opinion on the question of the P.I. licenses.

"We weren't opining on the legality of photo radar" in Brnovich's March 16 opinion, says Ryan Anderson, AG office spokesman. The law "was very clear that they needed to be licensed."

Anderson says it sounds like the companies are starting to "adapt" to the opinion, and that DPS "is stepping up to provide some of the clarity."

Photo-enforcement opponents would prefer that the issue remain murky, with the state's photo enforcement in permanent limbo thanks to the AG's opinion. But if the cameras go back on next month, the licensing process will have amounted to no more than an exercise in bureaucracy.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.