10/11/2007Louisiana Photo Enforcement Program Hits Legal Snag
Speed camera van operators may run afoul of law requiring licenses for contractors providing investigative services.
Although Louisiana state lawmakers have consistently rejected legislation authorizing the use of red light and speed cameras, a handful of local governments, including the city-parish of Lafayette, decided to move forward on automated ticketing programs without clear legal authority. Within days of Lafayette's new cameras hitting the streets, however, a unique legal challenge surfaced.
Local activist Denice C. Skinner filed an official complaint with Lafayette police late Monday claiming that Redflex, the Australian company that operates the ticketing program, is violating a state law requiring a license for any non-governmental entity in the business of gathering evidence for use in court proceedings.
"We have some pretty restrictive laws in Louisiana about what a private investigator can or cannot do, and they must be licensed by the Board of Private Investigators," Skinner told TheNewspaper. "I am looking to those laws for some relief."
The private investigator statute is designed "to require qualifying criteria in a professional field in which unqualified individuals may injure the public." (La. R.S. 37:3500-3525). It is quite clear on what constitutes a private investigator.
"'Private investigator' or 'private detective' means any person who... accepts employment to furnish information... or for the purpose of obtaining information with reference to... crimes or wrongs committed," the statute states.
Any contract employee who provides such services without a license commits a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine. To find out whether Redflex employees were properly licensed, KVOL radio talk radio show host Todd C. Elliott took his own camera to a ticketing van. Elliott caught the pictured camera operator taking a smoke break after having gathered evidence against up to ten motorists, generating at least $250 in payments for her company. Elliott asked the woman whether she had an investigator's license.
"No," the camera operator said with a laugh. "As long as anyone's in public -- you can have your picture taken as long as it's not used for commercial use.... there's nothing illegal about it."
The operator said that she took the job after seeing it listed on CareerBuilder.com and has no background in security. Elliott has been rapidly gathering signatures on a petition calling for removal of the cameras (download petition).
View video of Elliott's interview with the camera operator.