Photo Enforcement Policy Differs for DPS Troopers Flashed by State System; City Cops Always Need Legit Excuse

When Interstate 17 speed cameras flashed a couple of Gilbert cops last November, the officers were rewarded with more than a ticket -- they became the subjects of a department investigation and, as of yesterday, an Arizona Republic news story.

The question of what cops do with the automatic tickets is a thorny one. Although any law officer can legally speed to an urgent call -- as we'd want them to -- the sting of photo enforcement on the public's behind makes people intolerant of any double standard. Police know any blatant trashing of tickets would end up in the news, raising cries of hypocrisy. So most Valley police agencies require officers to pay the tickets unless they were responding to a call, according to a Thursday report from "3 On Your Side."

One notable exception, as New Times learned, is the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which manages the state's briar patch of speed cameras on highways and freeways.

DPS policy allows troopers to speed up to 15 mph over the posted limit on urban highways whenever they feel like it. Without that power, officials explain, it would be impossible to catch up to and pace speeders.

While responding to a call for assistance or emergency, troopers can basically floor it -- shooting up to 90, 100 or more to ensure help arrives as fast as possible, says DPS Lt. James Warriner.

These days, as you can imagine, that could make a trooper on the freeway feel like a celebrity being chased by paparazzi. In fact, the instinctive fear and guilt of being caught by the speed cameras can actually impede law enforcement.

"Our troopers are complaining they can't do their job because they're so paranoid," Warriner says.

DPS wants its troopers to see the green light to speed, but their reticence is understandable: It's not exactly a free-for-all. Notices generated by the speeding troopers go in a file, Warriner says. "We keep it, so if we continue to see some abuse, we can turn it over to a supervisor."

If troopers receive municipal photo enforcement notices, on the other hand, they must justify their speeds or pay the tickets -- like everyone else.

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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.