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Slay to Mo Legislature: Mitts off cities' red-light cameras

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2010 - Surrounded by uniformed police chiefs and officers from around the region, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay this morning declared his support for red-light cameras at city intersections, saying they had dramatically reduced red-light runners and accidents.

He also called on the Missouri Legislature, which is considering measures to ban the cameras, to drop the matter.

"The Missouri General Assembly should run the state and leave the cities to local officials,'' said Slay.

Later, he asserted that some legislators advocating the ban -- notably state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay -- are exploiting the public's dislike of traffic tickets.

"I think it's a political ploy,'' the mayor said.

Lembke, one of the chief sponsors of the proposed statewide ban on red-light cameras, contended that it was Slay and officials in other cities that use red-light cameras who are playing politics.

Lembke contends they are using the cameras primarily as a money-maker, and cites the fact that St. Louis imposes a fine for red-line camera violators, but no "points'' on a driver's record. Running a red light is a violation that, under state law, is worth two points.

Lembke admits that he has been telling people who get such tickets from red-light cameras to ignore the tickets and not pay them. "I think (cities with such cameras) have a real problem with enforcement," he said.

Lembke succeeded last week in getting a statewide ban on red-light cameras tacked onto a House transportation bill that's now in the Senate. He gives his quest a 50-50 chance of success of passing the Legislature before the session ends May 14.

In the meantime, Lembke is a target for red-light camera companies and supporters. His office voice mail was full Tuesday, and he blames a robo-call campaign undertaken by red-light camera advocates.

He'll likely hear from some of them in person today. Several participants at Slay's news conference were leaving immediately afterward for Jefferson City to lobby on behalf of use of the cameras.

Slay and St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom said that the cameras have reduced red-light running by about 65 percent -- and dramatically curbed accidents. Slay said the income the city receives from red-light camera tickets is tiny. Isom said the purpose of the cameras was strictly safety: "We want people to change their behavior so we have a safer community."

Added Slay: "The Legislature should be demanding this technology, not denying it."

But opponents of red-light cameras argue that the cameras are unconstitutional, or should be, and that they violate individual rights. Opponents also assert that the cameras can't prove who was driving the vehicle when it ran a red light.

Critics also point to a recent state Supreme Court decision that struck down the administrative procedures that Springfield, Mo. set up for people issued tickets via red-light cameras. The high court recently emphasized that its ruling dealt with Springfield's procedures, not with the cameras themselves.

Apparently with that legal debate in mind, Slay was joined today by St. Louis lawyer Ed Dowd, a former U.S. attorney who represented Arnold in its successful defense of its red-light cameras.

Dowd cited a number of court cases around the country where judges have upheld the cameras. He also went after Lembke, saying it was "outrageous'' for Lembke to tell people not to pay tickets they received if they were caught by red-light cameras.

Dowd is among the entourage of pro-red-light-camera advocates heading to the state Capitol today.

Their most powerful pitch may come from Kathy Tremeear, whose 10-year-old daughter Kayla was killed in 2002 when the family's van was struck in Fenton by a car running a red light.

Tremeear believes that her daughter -- "a special kid, a straight-A student" -- would still be alive if that intersection had been equipped with a red light camera.

"In 12 days, she would have been 18,'' Tremeear said, her eyes welling with tears. "Kayla was innocent."

Tremeear plans to share her suffering, and her support of red light cameras, with state legislators.


Slay won't be going to Jefferson City because he's flying out this afternoon for Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a regional group marking the 50th anniversary of the St. Louis-Stuttgart "sister city" relationship.

During the five-day visit, Slay plans to promote economic development and educational ties and "raise St. Louis' international profile." His costs are being covered by his campaign fund and the city of Stuttgart.

But while there, Slay said he also plans to check out Stuttgart's "sophisticated traffic system."

His inquiries, he added, will include whether Stuttgart deploys red-light cameras.

According to the web, Stuttgart does.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.