School bus camera company’s tactics questioned in Virginia

REDFLEX: Redflex has partnered with 19 school districts throughout Virginia to install school bus cameras.

By Kaitlyn Speer | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — One traffic camera company is getting the yellow light in Rockingham County.

After a former police officer questioned its enforcement process in May, Australia’s Redflex Traffic Systems said it planned to fix the controversial way it runs its school bus camera operation and violation tickets in the northern Virginia county.

Now, two months later, the company has yet to articulate how it will do that.

Redflex now uses cameras mounted on school buses to capture video and high-resolution images of drivers that have allegedly passed the school bus illegally. Redflex sends that evidence to local law enforcement to review and decide whether the driver violated the law and needs a citation. Redflex prints the citation and mails it to the car’s registered owner.

Redflex lost $2.2 million on its school bus cameras across the country last year, according to its most recent financial report.

David Briggman, a police officer in Hampton for 25 years, said he was concerned about Redflex’s program since the county started using it in January — mostly because the violations are mailed without any human interaction first, and doesn’t list a mandated court date.

“(It) puts the onus on the person getting this thing to request a court hearing,” he said. “These never see a courthouse. What if you have someone doing this repeatedly?”

Briggman contacted the transportation director at one of the public schools in Virginia two months ago, after he noticed stories appearing in local news outlets detailing the 26 people who had gotten tickets under Redflex’s program. Within two hours, he received a phone call from a Redflex representative.

Jillian Meinke, director of Redflex’s Student Guardian, the student bus camera operation, set up a conference call for Briggman with five Redflex representatives, including a Redflex vice president and an attorney from Hunton and Williams.

Meinke, according to Briggman, said she was going to come to Rockingham County to “re-train all of the players in this game.”

Briggman said the violation form will be revised to mandate a court date “ostensibly to keep them from bypassing the court system as they’ve been doing here in Rockingham.”

Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan offered Watchdog.org few specifics about those reforms.

“Redflex Traffic Systems is currently modifying its enforcement process,” Ryan said. “We are working with our law enforcement, judicial and education partners to ensure the program meets applicable state and municipal standards.”

The school bus camera controversy emerged during the McDonnell administration, after the General Assembly authorized municipalities to adopt ordinances that would allow school districts to contract with vendors to install and operate video-monitoring systems on school buses to capture drivers who illegally pass them.

Rockingham County reviewed its policy with Redflex earlier this summer, according to Phil Judd, Rockingham County’s transportation supervisor, and Meineke visited the school.

The citations issued by Redflex allow people to request a court hearing, or try to prove they were not responsible for the offense. But the ticket also says to fill out the form “only if you want to request a court hearing after you have received your violation video.”

If violators are found guilty, they must pay the fine as well as the court costs, and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will also determine points against that person’s driver’s license. And in small print at the bottom, there’s a time limit for a person to request a court hearing.

In one citation obtained by Watchdog.org, the alleged violator had roughly one month to request a court date from the time the ticket was issued.

Tom Miller, an attorney for the county, said the local government’s only role in the school bus video camera program is to decide whether to pass an ordinance authorizing the school board to use such a program. He didn’t comment about the legality of the citations.

Kaitlyn Speer is an intern for Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau. She can be reached at kspeer@watchdog.org or on twitter at @KSpeer11

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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