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Scottsdale to Restart Photo Enforcement, but Legal Questions Persist

Most Arizona municipalities discontinued their photo-enforcement programs in March after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich declared they were operating illegally.

But now, one city is about to restart its program.

Speed- and red-light cameras are set to begin test-flashing drivers in Scottsdale this week, with full citation-churning activation planned for Friday, according to the city's website. Officials are turning the system back on because American Traffic Solutions, the Mesa-based vendor Scottsdale uses for its program, is now "in compliance" with Brnovich's March 16 formal opinion that photo-enforcement contractors must obtain private-investigator licenses.

As New Times reported on May 2, the state Department of Public Safety granted ATS and its competitor, Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems, P.I.-agency licenses in late April. Both companies said at the time that they had subsequently applied for P.I. licenses for the individual employees who would be handling what Brnovich's opinion calls the photographic "evidence" of civil or criminal court cases.

An aggressive pioneer of photo enforcement for 20 years, Scottsdale now has 18 fixed cameras at intersections and along streets, two photo-radar vans, and two "portable towers" used in school zones. The only Arizona town that has shown more interest is Paradise Valley, which has used photo enforcement since 1987. Of all the Arizona cities that use the cameras, only Paradise Valley kept ticketing people after Brnovich's opinion, pulling in sworn police officers to match driver's-license photos with images of suspected speeders and red-light runners, a job previously done by the vendors.

Scottsdale's city attorney, Bruce Washburn, decided that when ATS presented its agency P.I. license, "that's all they needed to do," says Scottsdale spokesman Kelly Corsette. "They complied with the attorney general's opinion."

Officials in Phoenix, Avondale, Chandler, El Mirage, and Mesa have yet to reactivate their systems. Apparently, they're not as confident as Scottsdale that the vendors have met the AG's requirement.

"Our program was and still is suspended," says Diana Williams, spokeswoman for the city of Mesa, which like Scottsdale uses ATS for its vendor. "We do not have a set date when it will be back up." Mesa is working with ATS on the process, "but nothing has been finalized," she says.

ATS "has met the requirements set forth in the AG opinion," Charles Territo of ATS tells New Times. He declined to elaborate on the statement, adding only that the firm is "looking forward to working with our customers to get their road-safety-camera programs back up and running."

Representatives of Redflex, which was granted its P.I. agency license five days before ATS, didn't immediately return a call requesting comment.

Shawn Dow, a spokesman for the Libertarian, anti-photo-enforcement group Arizona Campaign for Liberty, says the P.I. licenses are "bogus" because they don't comply with state rules. Scottsdale, he asserts, has no right to switch on its cameras.

"Every ticket issued will be challengeable in court," Dow says. He claims that "lawsuits are being drawn up against the 'scamera' companies and the cities for their illegal taking of millions of dollars."

Last week, the activists released a statement condemning DPS for approving the licenses. Dow says the group will demand that DPS director Frank Milstead be removed from his post.
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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.

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