Missouri police chiefs seek court action on red-light laws

Friday, February 21, 2014 | 5:54 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — The police chiefs in Missouri's two largest cities are asking the state Supreme Court for guidance on red-light camera ordinances, laws increasingly under court scrutiny.

St. Louis Chief Sam Dotson and Kansas City Chief Darryl Forte wrote in an open letter Thursday that inconsistent rulings from lower courts have led to confusion for police and municipalities that operate red-light cameras.

"We know that these cameras change driver behavior in a way that makes intersections safer for our drivers, pedestrians and families," the letter stated. "This is yet another example of law enforcement using technology to save lives and operate more efficiently."

The state Supreme Court might be taking up the issue soon. Spokeswoman Beth Riggert said Friday that two cases are now pending, one involving Kansas City's law, the other involving the red-light law in Arnold.

Dozens of Missouri communities use the cameras that take photos of vehicles that run through red lights. Police say the cameras can save lives at dangerous intersections. Opponents say the cameras are designed to generate revenue, and they question their constitutionality.

A message left with Wrong on Red, a Missouri group that opposes red-light cameras, was not immediately returned.

Recent court rulings have prompted many Missouri communities with red-light ordinances to stop handing out tickets until the legal issues are cleared up.

Last week, St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer invalidated the city's ordinance over concerns about its constitutionality.

The lawsuit upon which Ohmer's ruling was based was filed by two St. Louis car owners who received tickets in 2012 and 2013, even though neither was driving when the vehicles were photographed running red lights. City leaders were appealing Ohmer's ruling.

St. Louis operates cameras at 35 intersections, and they brought in more than $4 million last year. Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said the red-light camera revenue is less than 1 percent of the city budget.

Kansas City's red-light camera ordinance is also under fire by opponents. A key issue was that Kansas City's law does not assess points against the violator's driver's license, as required by state law. Ordinances in other Missouri cities are being challenged over that same issue.

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