Columbia suspends red-light camera prosecutions

Thursday, November 7, 2013 | 6:11 p.m. CST; updated 6:38 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 7, 2013

COLUMBIA — All traffic violations caught by city red-light cameras since Aug. 19 will be suspended after a ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District.

The court ruled that vehicle owners could not be ticketed indiscriminately when their vehicles were caught going through red lights.

Prosecution of red-light camera cases in Columbia that occurred before Aug. 19 will not be affected by the ruling or the temporary suspension, City Prosecutor Stephen Richey said.

The ruling also stated that the infractions must be recorded as moving violations with points being assessed to driving records.

Beginning Aug. 19, the city began citing the owners of vehicles caught by cameras going through red lights regardless of whether there was an image showing that the owner was driving. The city decided on this approach following a previous decision by the same Court of Appeals that upheld a city's ability to charge a vehicle owner. That ruling was reversed Tuesday.

Previously, the city issued a ticket only when it could prove the identity of the driver. 

The cameras will continue taking pictures while the moratorium is in place, Richey said, but prosecutions will be halted until further notice.

Including court costs, tickets cost $120, the same as a traffic stop by police.

The city has four working red-light cameras: northbound and southbound Providence Road at Stadium Boulevard, at Stadium Boulevard and Forum Boulevard, and at Providence Road and Broadway. There is also one at Stadium Boulevard and Worley Street, but it isn't operating because of nearby construction.

Because Columbia falls under the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, not under the Eastern District's jurisdiction, the ruling might not have an immediate effect on the city's ordinance, said Richard Sheets, the deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League.

Richey said there is some debate about whether court decisions from the Eastern District apply, but the city was "playing it safe."

Installation of the city's five red-light cameras began in 2009, but plans to build 11 more were tossed in November 2011. In the first two years, the city saw a decrease in violations after the installment of the five cameras. In 2010, 1,457 tickets were paid, and in 2011, 829 were paid.

In fiscal year 2013, the cameras generated $103,401, up from $97,090 in fiscal year 2012.

Not all the money goes directly to the city coffers. Gatso USA, the private company that installs and maintains the cameras, receives a percentage of the revenue generated. The city only nets a percentage of that money after costs.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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