Denver Puts Brakes On Photo Radar

Court Ruling Raises Doubts About Ticketing System

The city is red-lighting the use of photo radar to catch speeders until it finishes reviewing a court ruling that said the program violates local and city laws.

The decision by County Judge Mary Celeste affected only the four tickets she dismissed, but the defendants said they may challenge the entire program.

Celeste ruled Monday that Denver's program violates city law by giving police powers to a private contractor, who prepares and sends the summonses.

And the program violates state law by appearing to compensate the contractor based on the volume of tickets issued, she said.

"We are stopping the photo radar ticketing operation effective immediately until we have a chance to review the judge's decision and make whatever changes we need to bring it into compliance with the law," said Capt. John Lamb of the Denver Police Department's traffic operations bureau.

The city has not decided whether to appeal the judge's ruling, said Assistant City Attorney Jim Thomas.

One of the people who had his tickets dismissed is Gary Pirosko, a lawyer and former sheriff's deputy.

"We're relying on technology in a situation where we'd normally rely on the human judgment of the police officer," Pirosko said.

Denver uses cameras in white roadside vans to catch on film speeding motorists and their license plates. Tickets are then mailed to the violators.

Boulder and Fort Collins also use photo radar to catch speeders.

Boulder traffic planner Mike Sweeney said his city tries to avoid the issues raised in Denver by keeping the power of writing tickets in the police department. The contractor takes the pictures, and police decide which photos are clear enough and which violations deserve a ticket.

Critics, including some legislators, argue photo radar is an invasion of privacy. They also contend that cities use it to make money rather than keep the roads safe.

Denver officials defend photo radar as a safety measure with solid results in slowing down drivers. They say the number of cars that pass the vans and trigger cameras by driving 10 mph over the limit has dropped dramatically as people have become aware of the program

Photo radar tickets come with a $40 fine, but the fine is doubled in school zones.

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