Privatized Law Enforcement - And Response (4)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mayor Berke,

 By way of introduction, my name is Will Adams. I was born and raised in Knoxville, graduated from UT, and come from a long family line of Tennesseans. For many decades, my aunt passionately served the children of Chattanooga through public education. And my parents live just outside Nashville on our family farm. In short, I love the great state of Tennessee.

Several weeks ago, on my way home from the family farm, I took a detour through Chattanooga to show my oldest daughter a few areas of interest. It was time well spent, as we had a great time visiting the area. That was until I received a "notice of speed violation" from the City of Chattanooga. In accordance with Chattanooga City Ordinance No. 24-273 (photographic speeding violation), your city is demanding that I pay a $50 civil penalty… or “Chattanooga City Court will pursue all legal means of collecting this judgement, including wage/bank account garnishment, personal property seizure, and vehicle impoundment/immobilization.

Well… it’s nice to meet you as well Mr. Mayor!  And while we're exchanging such pleasantries, let me thank you and your fine city for such a warm and welcoming greeting!

Rather unfamiliar with the area, I failed to see any speed limit signage, nor did I see any posted notices of cameras being used to monitor speed. And according to section B3 of the ordinance, such signs indicating “…the use of traffic control photographic systems shall be clearly posted.” I assume such signs are posted, but I assure you they are not clearly posted. And I’m sure that’s not by accident.

To receive such a threatening demand for payment, by your city, through a third-party vendor, nearly two weeks after the ‘alleged’ speeding violation, has left me dumbfounded. Quite frankly, your program has all the markings of a privatized, clandestine policing operation and a prosecution for profit scheme orchestrated by you and other elected officials of Chattanooga.

In researching the legality of this, 13 states have passed laws that prohibit the use of speed cameras. And rightfully so. Why do you and others within the City of Chattanooga think it’s okay, or even legal, to privatize your law enforcement? Why do you think it’s ethical to contract out such a faux law enforcement program to a private, third-party company (Sensys America) that’s driven by profit? And are you aware of what kind of access that company has to my (and others) data and/or what they do with it?

In reviewing the city’s contract with Sensys America, it’s abundantly clear why the city has decided to embrace privatized law enforcement: Money.

Both Sensys America and the city are financially incentivized through the (1) issuance of violation notices and (2) through ‘violation’ fee collection policies. If this program was about safety, as it’s purported to be, why are there no financial incentives attached to reductions in accidents, moving violations, and other safety measurements? That answer: It’s not about safety, it’s about money.

The fact that a private company, contractually incentivized by profit, can influence the driving privileges of private citizens is unethical and fraught with constitutionality issues, to say the least. No matter which way you slice it, everything about this program is deeply flawed and ripe for fraud, abuse and corruption. And most importantly, it erodes the waning trust people have in their elected officials.

I want to be clear: If I failed to adhere to a posted speed limit, then I have zero issue owning the consequences of my actions. That’s not what this is about. My (and many others) issue is with you and your city’s decision to privatize your city’s law enforcement and willfully (and contractually) participate and encourage a prosecution for profit scheme to prop up your city’s operating budget. It’s a really, really bad look for your city.

As you’re aware, we’re living in a time in which law enforcement is constantly under attack and narratives are being written that we shouldn’t trust those who wear a badge. Unfortunately, this type of unethical overreach by your city feeds into that destructive narrative. I hope that you and your city reconsider this erroneous ordinance; and instead, reinvest in those that have nobly chosen law enforcement as their life’s work, so they can promote safety and build a more trustworthy relationship with the community they've vowed to protect and serve. Privatized law enforcement driven by profit is not the answer!

As long as your city embraces this policy, I will not spend another dollar in Chattanooga. And I’m certain that I’m not the only one whose taken such a stance. 


Will Adams

* * *

I feel your pain; I do. However, here are the facts:

The signs are posted and visible. Where you got caught red-handed not obeying traffic locations are in specific locations for a reason. They are located in areas that are prone to accidents, involving fatalities.

Here’s what I’d suggest, use an app that shows you the speed limit. Apps like Waze are very useful since you seem to have an issue locating posted speeds. This will keep a couple of things from happening. First, it will keep you from speeding. Second, it will keep you from writing a long-winded article blaming others for your faults. Lastly and most importantly, it will help keep others safe while you reduce your speed.

Furthermore, while as area residents we don’t want to see your valuable tax dollars go away, we also don’t want the following:

Unsafe drivers are not obeying posted speed limits.

Chattanooga taxpayers prefer not to park a patrol car at dangerous intersections 24/7.

I’ve seen some of the wrecks at those locations, and I can assure you, they were all completely avoidable.

Sorry, Not Sorry,
James Berry
Hamilton County Resident

* * * 

Mr. Adams,

I am sorry your drive though our hometown resulted in a camera ticket.  I know the courts have determined camera tickets are legal. It is a problem and remains a work in progress through the work of Rep. Andy Holt, my second favorite state legislator.

It is really an injustice when a citizen is not afforded the opportunity to explain the circumstance to an actual officer, such as going to an emergency room.  Yes, one emergency to the hospital can cost you an entire day in a court to simply be heard. Poor roadway postings should also be considered, but you cannot speak to an officer in either case.

Hopefully, one day our state legislature will follow the lead of other states and prohibit camera fee grabbing by municipalities.  I believe if you would have been afforded the opportunity to explain, an officer may have weighed the circumstances appropriately and issued a warning ticket.  Of course, you were not afforded a field screening of the circumstances.

The alternative is to sit in court all day long to present your case, and lose work time from your employment and family.  The speeding for profit camera companies count on you opting to pay the fine instead of taking the time to seek justice.

Our state of Tennessee legislature is not blind to the problems with municipal camera ticketing, and have placed many constraints on municipalities attempting to collect the fines.

The constraints are that a civil camera citation cannot impact your credit score, insurance rates, and is not criminal, and therefore limited to a $50 fine.  

State of Tennessee Rep. Andy Holt has taken this camera bull by the horns and strengthened citizen protections from camera fee grabbing.  I would encourage you to watch Rep. Holt’s video explanation on the new constraints placed on municipalities imposing camera fines.

Simply google Rep. Andy Holt camera traffic ticket and watch the YouTube video. Rep. Holt also explains the relatively new state law placing constraints on the camera fee grabbing in the video.

The city of Chattanooga can no longer increase their revenue through annexation due to the leadership of Rep. Mike Carter. We had a time when city government was annexing and not providing services.  At the same time, our hometown exempts rich corporations from paying property taxes under PILOT.

As a result, our city government is always looking for opportunity for new revenue sources through fee grabbing as a growth mechanism.

You are not alone in your view, see Rep. Andy Holt. I believe our state legislature will eventually prohibit the camera citations, as other states have.

Y’all come back, ya hear.

April Eidson

* * * 

Gee whiz, Mr. Adams. I wonder what stings the most: that you were caught unaware speeding, that you did not have a chance to argue with the police officer about it or that you were shamed?

The fact is you’ve been given a enormous discount. By statute, fines are limited to $50 when detected by a device without an officer in attendance. No points were added to your license because the ticket is not transferred to your state (by that same statute). You didn’t have to take time to travel back to Chattanooga for traffic court (which would have achieved absolutely nothing) and you avoided all court costs.

You got off with a minor slap on the wrist and you’re upset. As for your threat to never come back to Chattanooga, I think you would be on the losing end of that idea. I have worked in many cities around the U.S. and Chattanooga is the place I settled, raised a family and retired. The cost-of-living is one of the lowest in the country, gasoline is well below par, the cheapest electricity around, the fastest internet in the country…and the list goes on. Forget all that and just take a look at Chattanooga’s scenic beauty.

We will miss you, Mr. Adams. But life will go on in your absence.

Dave Fihn

* * * 

I have lived and worked around Chattanooga for 62 years. I know that there has been a long battle over the use of "traffic cameras". Two years ago I received one of the tickets myself. I paid the fine and vowed to be more alert about my observance of speed limits. Ignorance of speed limits as an excuse would not be entertained by a patrol officer or the court. I'm sure you have heard "Ignorance of the...........OK, just checking.

I apologize that Chattanooga and the state do not have enough patrol officers and highway patrol to sit and watch all the roads in our region. I would suggest that if you are within city limits pretty much anywhere, the speed limit is 55 mph. No one is obeying that speed limit of course, but you have the option to do so. If you have further doubt, stay in the right lane. 

There is one and only one way to beat the traffic cameras each and every time. Drive the speed limit and obey all other traffic laws. You will be invincible to those demonic cameras.

Ted Ladd

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