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State Grants Firms P.I. Licenses, Speed-Camera Foes Say 'Not So Fast!'

The Arizona Department of Public Safety should not have granted private-investigator licenses last month for two photo-enforcement companies, anti-photo-radar activists claim.

Local activist Shawn Dow says he and the Arizona Campaign for Liberty are calling on DPS director Frank Milstead to "take action," alleging that "multiple factors should have automatically disqualified each vendor."

As New Times reported earlier this month, anyone who thought a new state requirement that photo-enforcement companies be licensed as P.I. agencies would put the cameras on permanent hold has another thing coming: DPS approved P.I. agency licenses for Redflex and American Traffic Solutions in late April.

The two international firms, both headquartered in metro Phoenix, applied for the licenses soon after state Attorney General Mark Brnovich's March 16 formal opinion that photo-enforcement companies routinely process evidence used in court proceedings and therefore fall under the definition of Arizona's P.I. law. The opinion, issued in response to an anti-photo-enforcement lawmaker's request, reversed a 2010 decision on the same question by ex-AG Terry Goddard and caused a halt to ticketing by speed- and red-light cameras in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, and other cities.

At least for the moment, the cameras have ceased flashing and the companies have stopped issuing citations to motorists. (The exception is Paradise Valley, where sworn officers are examining the photographic evidence.) But the systems could be up and running again in a few weeks, once DPS processes individual P.I. licenses for employees who handle evidence. After that, it will be up to city officials to decide if and when to reactivate the camera systems.

Photo-enforcement foes want to make sure that doesn't happen.

"It looks like the DPS director grabbed his rubber stamp as fast as he could to rescue his old pals," Dow asserts on, an anti-photo-enforcement website.

Both Redflex and ATS are "currently under investigation by the FBI in multiple states," according to Arizona Campaign for Liberty, which itself is part of a national Libertarian group. Dow has worked with local leaders — including State Representative Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), who asked Brnovich for the latest opinion — to drive photo enforcement out of the state. (Not that Arizona's conservative lawmakers need much help in that department: Earlier this year, Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill banning photo enforcement on Arizona's highways; a bill to eliminate the systems failed.)

Campaign for Liberty points to an ongoing federal probe into a massive bribery scheme, which already has ensnared former Redflex CEO Karen Finley, a Cave Creek resident who pleaded guilty last June to bribing government officials and is awaiting sentencing.

Additionally, Dow's group claims that both ATS and Redflex persisted in processing tickets after Brnovich issued his opinion on March 16. If true, that might be construed as doing P.I. work without a license, a violation of state law.

The two companies deny the allegation.

Dow says DPS director Frank Milstead is conducting an internal investigation of the matter, and that DPS "is looking at backtracking and denying the licenses."

A DPS official told New Times that he is unaware of any "backtracking."

"The licenses were issued in accordance with state statute," DPS Commander Damon Cecil said. "At this point, there's no investigation into why they were issued."

Redflex spokesman Michael Cavaiola says the opposition group is "tying themselves in logical knots" and that "they would like to do anything to put these companies out of business."

He's certainly right about that last part.

The Arizona Campaign for Liberty encourages anyone who believes he or she is a "victim of an illegally issued photo traffic citation from an unlicensed firm, dating back to 2009" to submit a complaint to DPS.

Correction: Dow's not a Phoenix attorney — that's a different Shawn Dow.
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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.
Contact: Ray Stern