CITY HALL – Red light cameras may be returning to St. Louis city streets, but with a different face. Or, at least, a face.
The cameras brought tickets in the mail to people who ran selected red lights until a court decision in 2015 declared the St. Louis law that authorized the practice unconstitutional.
Now St. Louis is considering doing it again, but only if the camera’s documentation includes a picture of the person in the driver’s seat. Previously, cameras took pictures of the rear of the vehicle, including the license plate.
“Under state law, we have to identify the driver. We’ve got to recognize their face,” Todd Waelterman, city Director of Operations, told the Board of Aldermen’s Streets, Traffic and Refuse Committee on Nov. 19. “And an officer has to prove it’s them in the car, and they wind up getting points on their license.”
“We are in the process of just exploring whether or not this is a good idea,” said Jacob Long, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s director of communications.
The city recently put out a request for proposals for a system that meets those criteria and set a deadline of mid-December, Long said.
“We think there’s about a half a dozen vendors out there that may bid on this thing,” Waelterman said.
Any proposals would have to be thoroughly vetted by the city’s executive branch and the Board of Aldermen, Long said. It could take months or more before the city rolls it out, he said.
“This is about saving lives for the city of St. Louis,” Long said.
At the same time, “It’s going to take a lot of technology to make something like this work,” Waelterman said.
The Missouri Supreme Court decision ended red light cameras in 2015 when it ruled that the St. Louis city ordinance that established the program “creates a rebuttable presumption that improperly shifts the burden of persuasion onto the defendant to prove that he or she was not operating the motor vehicle at the time of the violation.”
Under the ordinance, the city sent the owner of the motor vehicle a violation notice and summons, without any attempt to determine if the owner had been driving the car at the time of the incident.
In the years without red light cameras, pedestrian fatalities and car fatalities went up about 50 percent, Long said. And the need is greater, he said.
“It’s no secret that we have staffing challenges in the police department,” Long said. There isn’t enough manpower for traffic enforcement, he said.
The program probably wouldn’t bring in much money, Long said. But whatever new revenue the program generated would probably be used to improve driver safety, he said.
Twenty-Second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who chairs the streets committee, said he was excited about the possibilities for the program.
“Speeding is out of control,” Boyd said. “It’s an epidemic in the city of St. Louis. People run red lights. They run stop signs.
“The data will show that more people have been killed since they stopped the red light program.”
Even though city officials have just proposed the idea, lines are already forming against it.
In his Riverfront Times column last week, Ray Hartmann cited numerous studies that showed that by encouraging motorists to slam on the brakes, red light cameras cause more accidents, particularly from the rear, than they prevent.
Hartmann also maintained that the cameras would be a cash cow for the city and would hurt low-income people the most.