Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) has been on a crusade against the use of photo-enforcement cameras for many years, citing that they are illegal and turn the American justice system on its head. Giving a boost to Holt’s argument, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery responded to a request by Holt to opine on whether or not out-of-state traffic camera companies contracted by Tennessee cities were in violation of state law on Wednesday afternoon.
At the heart of Holt’s issue, is the fact that out-of-state photo-enforcement companies contracted throughout the state of Tennessee have utilized non-law enforcement employees to preliminarily review video footage of supposed traffic violations, and are then making determinations regarding whether or not a violation has occurred. The scrubbed footage is then sent back to local law enforcement agencies with violations that are simply rubber-stamped by a POST-certified officer. Local law enforcement agencies often claim that an officer “witnessed” the supposed violator and by placing their signature on the ticket claim to validate the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, actual law enforcement personnel have been removed from the current photo-enforcement process, with the single exception of simply placing the signature of an officer on each ticket that has already been processed by the employees of these private companies.
“The framework used by traffic camera companies in Tennessee is flat out illegal,” said Holt. “Photographic evidence of motorists is streamed from these privately owned cameras to out-of-state data centers where people with zero knowledge of Tennessee law, who you & I have never met, sit on a computers and decide whether or not to send the supposed violation back to local law enforcement officials. State law mandates that only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers shall be authorized to review video evidence from a traffic light signal monitoring system and make a determination as to whether or not a violation has occurred. How many violations do these people decide not to send back to local law enforcement? Since when were they granted the authority to enforce law in the State of Tennessee? I’m sure many Tennesseans would love to have an out-of-state friend working at one of these companies that could simply delete the footage of their violation.”
Photo-enforcement camera companies used in Tennessee, like American Traffic Solutions (ATS), readily admit to the fact that their employees review footage and determine whether a violation has occurred before sending the violations back to local law enforcement. In their marketing material, ATS uses it as one of their central selling points to government agencies.
“These call-center type employees are tasked with throwing out footage that they feel doesn’t violate state law,” said Holt. “So, when a vehicle speeding by or running a red light activates the camera, these employees get to determine whether or not they will send that footage back to local police. They are making a determination as to whether or not state law was violated before having police confirm the violation.”
Slatery’s opinion states that it doesn’t matter whether or not the camera company employees are viewing the footage for a preliminary, or final determination as to whether or not someone violated the law, but by them simply viewing the footage, they are in violation of state law.
“Only POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officers are authorized to review video evidence from a traffic light signal monitoring system and make a determination as to whether or not a violation has occurred,” opined Slatery. “Employees of private traffic camera companies are not POST-certified or state-commissioned law enforcement officers and therefore are not authorized to review video evidence and make violation determinations.”
Holt says he hopes to see a class action lawsuit filed soon.
“We have a situation where every single Tennessee motorist, even motorists just passing through our state, who has received a photo-enforcement ticket in the mail may have had that ticket issued illegally. If one single person other than a POST-certified or state commissioned law enforcement officer looked at the footage of a supposed violator’s vehicle before sending it off to local police to confirm the preliminary determination with their rubber-stamped signature, then that ticket was issued illegally. In my opinion, each of the individuals whom have paid these illegally issued citations must be repaid. I hope to see a class action lawsuit, and I have actually spoken with some law firms that are very interested in taking on this prospect,” said Holt. “It’s funny, really. We have these cities & private companies accusing people of violating the law, meanwhile they readily violate the law themselves in order to literally illegally extort hard-earned money from Tennessee citizens & our visitors. It enrages me. Many of these individuals are people already on a tight budget, and often times feel the need to prioritize paying these fraudulent, coercive & illegal citations over other legitimate expenditures such as food, healthcare, school supplies or other basic needs. If you violate the law, an officer should have to pull you over and cite you. Plain and simple.”
Holt says he is also contacting District Attorneys across the state to ask them to order a cease and desist on all photo-enforcement devices in the State of Tennessee that may be subject to General Slatery’s opinion.
Rep. Andy Holt is a Republican representing Weakley, as well as, parts of Obion and Carroll counties.