Paradise Valley Photo-Enforcement System Backlogged After AG Opinion

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Paradise Valley kept its photo-enforcement cameras on after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued his legal opinion in March — and now the town's so backed up with tickets, it can't process them all.

The upscale Phoenix suburb is mailing violation notices to some of those offenders before statutory deadlines run out.

Most Arizona municipalities shut down their photo-enforcement programs after Brnovich issued his March 16 opinion requiring photo-enforcement companies to be licensed as private investigators. But not Paradise Valley, a pioneer of the controversial technology.

As a March 22 news release explained, the program would "remain fully operational" even during the period when the town's photo-enforcement vendor, Redflex, was prohibited from processing evidence. Officials later said that town police officers would utilize some of their time to match up photographs from the enforcement cameras to driver's license pictures.

That was true, but Town Manager Kevin Burke tells New Times that it wasn't possible for the officers to keep up with the volume, leading to a backlog of "thousands" of cases. Cameras were catching violators and storing the photos in databases, but in many cases nothing was done with that information owing to the lack of resources. Only a portion of those cases are now being addressed, Burke said.

In late April, the state Department of Public Safety approved P.I. licenses for Redflex and its competitor, Mesa-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), leading municipalities that use photo-enforcement to declare that the AG's requirement had been satisfied. On May 13, Scottsdale was the first to turn its cameras back on. Phoenix, Chandler, and the Town of Star Valley, near Payson, followed this past week.

At about the same time, when P.V. officials were satisfied Redflex had met the AG's criteria, the town instructed Redflex to review the citation backlog and mail out notices of violation accordingly, Burke says.

But time is running short: State law requires that a ticket be filed in court within 60 days of the alleged violation date.

"We've asked Redflex to triage the data," Burke said. 

Red-light runners in the backlog will be processed first, because those people represent the biggest threat to others, Burke said. After that, Redflex employees will sift through the remaining speed-camera notices and process those with the highest speeds first. As in other cities, the cameras are typically set to trigger at 11 mph over the posted speed limit.

Violation notices give motorists 30 days to mail the notice back to the town, preferably with the full fine payment enclosed. If a notice is ignored, the town has 60 days to have the ticket served by a process server. (As New Times has noted in the past, state law requires that a ticket must be delivered in person in order to stick.) Drivers who ignore a ticket and can't be found by a process server will have the violation dismissed from the system with no penalty 120 days after it's filed in court.

Speeding motorists traveling through P.V. who saw an enforcement-camera flash on April 1, for example, may not have received a violation notice within 30 days, owing to Brnovich's opinion. Such a notice must be filed with the town court by roughly June 1, or it won't count.

Burke wasn't immediately able to say how many in the backlog would be processed. Aggressively processing thousands of tickets within a short timeframe would be a burden on the town's court, which continues to deal with new photo-enforcement tickets coming in each day, he said.

"Court staffing will limit how many we can process," he conceded. "The task is not to prosecute as many as we can, but to make sure that we never lost the disincentive to violate the law in Paradise Valley."

The backlog problem started after Redflex went offline in mid-March, but Burke noted that it was exacerbated by the extra tickets from four new photo-enforcement cameras the town added about two years ago as part of an overall technology boost to its police department.

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