First Red Light Case Dismissed in Columbia
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First Red Light Case Dismissed in Columbia

Date: September 28, 2009
By: Cheston McGuire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The first challenge to a red light camera ticket in Columbia had its case dismissed on Monday.

The dismissal came after the car owner filed an affidavit claiming he was not the driver. Since the red light cameras began ticketing on Sept. 4, there have been 153 tickets issued. So far 30 have been paid, and one other filed an affidavit.

The second affidavit will come before Columbia Municipal Court at 9 a.m. next Monday.

Because the case is a criminal one that was dismissed, the records have been sealed. Municipal Judge Robert Aulgur presided over the case but was unavailable for a comment.

The cameras, installed on Aug. 5, are located at the intersections of Providence Road and Broadway, and Stadium Boulevard and Worley Street. If someone runs a red light at either intersection, a ticket is mailed to the owner of the car for total fine of $120.

The red light cameras have been an ongoing debate for the Columbia City Council.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade, who supports the red light cameras, said that even in light of the first challenge to the cameras its too soon to tell if there needs to be change.

"We don't know what we will be facing and what our options are," Wade said. He added later, "We will see if we need to make changes in the future by looking at the history."

However, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said that case like this "hurts things a lot, if people continue to challenge cases using that method and that loophole may have to be closed up."

While Sturtz said he had reservations about the red light cameras in the beginning, he said he thinks now that "if we can prevent some accidents because of the red light cameras, it's a good thing."

The red light camera debate has been brought to the state level.

State Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said companies like Gatso USA are "making profits off of the criminal justice system."

Of the $120 the ticket receiver pays, $41 or 34 percent goes to Gatso USA. So far, of the $3,600 collected, $1,230 of that will go to Gatso USA.

Crowell said that there are no ongoing fees paid to companies for use of guns, cars or any other police purchases, and so there shouldn't be for red light cameras. "Do you think you would want a police officer to keep 40 percent of every ticket they issued?" Crowell asked.

Gatso USA, based in Massachusetts, does not make the final decision on when tickets are issued. That final decision is made by the Columbia Police Department. 

President and co-founder of Gatso USA Andrew Noble said that what his company offers to Columbia is unique and should be considered differently.

Noble said that his company makes, installs and maintains the cameras. Each camera costs $100,000 per direction plus the cost of processing, software and initial infrastructure, which is completely covered by Gatso USA.

Columbia selected Gatso USA in a competitive bid with about five other companies, according to Noble and the assistant city manager, Tony St. Romaine. A contract was completed in April.

Prior to founding Gatso USA, Noble was a consultant to its current parent company, Gatsometer, which is based in the Netherlands. There, he was the intermediary between Gatsometer and ACS, a small business information technology support company. Through this he met Rich Kosina, the technical director of ACS, and together they decided to create Gatso USA "to serve smaller cities in the United States and not just the big ones," which companies like Gatsometer does in Europe.

Noble said that the most important thing about Gatso USA is "adaptability, accuracy and credibility." The significance of these points is that these cameras are providing a tool to ensure safety for the public and "people need to know that the company charging them with breaking the law is accurate, credible and works around the world."

According to Noble, one of the "unique" technologies that Gatso USA offers is a data bar that is on every photo taken of a car running a red light with 17 points of interest such as time, date, length of time the light has been red and how long the yellow was.

This he said is different from what other companies do because "there is no disconnect between the data and the photo." Some companies, he said, take the photo and data from two different sources to put on the photo. This can lead to mislabeled information and lost data, he said. Noble said that this is important to the cities that they operate in because it can provide evidence that someone truly was out in the intersection on red and not just yellow.

A St. Louis case has raised the issue of whether they should be constitutionally allowed. The St. Louis judge, who received a red light ticket, charged that they invade privacy and infringe on someone's right to a trial among other arguments.

Noble said that Gatso USA's red light cameras are not an invasion of privacy because, "if you are driving on a public road with a two-ton vehicle, the public deserves to know that you are doing so safely and responsibly."

Currently the state legislature allows for tickets to be issued from the cameras in the same way that parking tickets are issued, and just how parking tickets may be paid by the driver and not always the owner, the same can be done with a red light ticket.