Seeing Red

With No Appeal Process, Albuquerque Residents Are Suing The City Over Red Light Cameras

Mark Sanders
3 min read
(Rex Barron)
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Next time you find yourself running out of conversation topics with an Albuquerquean, try this: Ask them how they feel about the red light cameras.

It’s one of those topics that easily incites passionate responses from city residents. Those on the pro- side of the debate claim the cameras save lives (and according to a 2005 Federal Highway Administration study, they do: Cameras have reduced front and side crashes by 25 percent nationally), while opponents claim they’re invasive, unfair and, well, just plain annoying.

Attorney Paul Livingston goes even farther. He says they should be against the law.

“What they’ve done is create illegal processes to get the money out of you,” he says of the City of Albuquerque, speaking from his Placitas home.

In August, Livingston filed what he calls “a class action lawsuit-in-the-making,” in which he represents six Albuquerque city bus drivers. The suit, filed on behalf of all city employees who’ve been ticketed while driving city vehicles, says the Safe Traffic Operations Program (aka “STOP Ordinance”) violates the law because it declares city vehicles public nuisances.

This week, Livingston is going to court with a second red light camera-related case, this one on behalf of non-city employees. It states how one driver received two citations for the same incident–one for speeding and the other for going through a red light–but before she could appeal the charges, received a notice of default.

“So not only is your car considered a nuisance, but [the city] has this idea that, if you don’t send in your pay, you’re held in default,” Livingston points out. “It says, ‘Now you’ve been found guilty, and you have to pay on top of that,’” he adds.

Livingston says the word “nuisance” as if it’s a nuisance to pronounce. Under the STOP Ordinance, offenders who don’t pay up may be subject to having their cars seized, “thus [removing] the instrumentality used to create this nuisance.”

Does that pertain to the bus drivers? Could they have their buses seized for not paying tickets? How about the six police officers who’ve also been cited? Could we possibly be seeing tow trucks down at the station any time soon?

Not likely. City employees automatically have the fines deducted from their pay, which begin at $100 for going 1-10 miles per hour over the speed limit or for running a red light. The appeal process is nonexistent.

The cameras have generated well over $1 million in revenue since they were installed in May 2005, some of which goes to Redflex, the Arizona-based company that installed them. Another portion of the profit goes to the city (specifically, the District Attorney’s office’s efforts to fight methamphetamine dealers and users).

“They’re taking money from the speed cameras and putting it toward another kind of speed,” Livingston jokes.
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