Just when Sugar Creek thought it had a revenue source and public safety tool in one convenient package -- a portable roadside speeding camera -- the Missouri Department of Transportation has put some restrictions on the plan.
Tired of people tearing through their town, Sugar Creek officials were all excited to start using the new automated cop (provided by the manufacturer in exchange for a cut of the fines collected) along M-291. But MoDOT has concerns about privacy complaints and legal issues with the camera that sits atop a mast attached to a trailer.
So Sugar Creek is going to have to fall in line with MoDOT's guidelines
for roadside speed cameras: They can use it to ticket
people on the highway, but only if a living police officer is babysitting it the
entire time. "Our thought is, if it's attended, it's more like normal
law enforcement," MoDOT assistant engineer Chris Redline says. A few St. Louis suburbs using the cameras follow the same guidelines.
municipal streets though, police can nab as many speeders as they
want to without a human escort. This diminishes the camera's usefulness
somewhat, Sugar Creek Police Chief Herb Soule says, but he's
optimistic about using the camera on city roads.
"If you call me
up and say 'Hey, my kids are playing in the front yard
and cars are going by at 50 or 60 miles per hour,' I can't set a police a
officer up there for three days. But I can set up a camera there for
three days," he says.
Still, it's kinda a bummer for Sugar
Creek's pocketbook. Soule says in just two and half hours of testing the
camera on the side of M-291, it spotted 145 motorists going at least
10 mph over the speed limit and some topping 85 mph. That could
have been a lot of speeding ticket cash.
Meanwhile, Redline says legal gray areas like this thrust MoDOT into an uncomfortable position
trying to balance law enforcement, highway safety and privacy rights.
"People are really passionate about this," he says. "We'd welcome the
general assembly weighing in with some legislation to help us out on
public policy here. It's just so divisive."