License-plate scanners planned for OK Hwy

Editorial Analysis: Do Oklahoma citizens really want state government photographing every license plate throughout the state?

It’s all for a good cause. District Attorneys have taken some flack for operating as highway robbers – the civil asset forfeiture issue, click here for more, but the DAs say they need more money to pay staff and conduct prosecutions. They are not getting sufficient funds from the legislature, fees and fines so they have found another revenue source. 

Ben Botkin for OklahomaWatch.org writes, “Oklahoma has finalized a deal with a Massachusetts company to use license-plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers, and the firm expects to issue 20,000 citations a month starting as early as next year.

The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, involves setting up automated high-speed cameras  on highways around the state to detect uninsured vehicles and mailing their owners a citation with a fine of $184, according to the District Attorneys Council.

Gatso USA, a Beverly, Massachusetts-based company that specializes in red-light-running and speeding detection systems, will initially get $80, or 43 percent, of each fine. Its cut will decrease to $74 after two years and $68 after five years, according to a contract approved by the state after months of legal review and negotiation. The company could expect to bring in $1.6 million a month, or $19 million a year, if the 20,000 citations are issued monthly. Gatso is a subsidiary of a Dutch company.”

By any standard, that is a lot of money, but it assumes that people will pay the tickets when the bill arrives. Obviously, people who drive without insurance are too poor or too criminal to follow the law so why do DAs expect compliance.  Oh wait.  More prosecutions and fines and fees may be possible. Think about this Oklahoma.  You may read the contract online by clicking here.  The Oklahoma Watch story asserts, “drivers who pay the fees will avoid a ‘driving without insurance’ charge on their permanent record.”  That is a motivator.

Tim Harris

Former-District Attorney Tim Harris is now running to fill the First Congressional District Seat held by Rep. Jim Bridenstine. In a Tulsa Today interview, Harris talked about the incredibly high volume of cases and how he dealt with them as Tulsa County DA, “we filed about 6,000 felonies, an equal number of misdemeanors and 1,700 juvenile cases both deprived and delinquency per year.  We took to the courtroom just over 100 felony cases a year that were tried to a jury, so what happened to the others?… I negotiated many more cases than I ever tried,” Harris said.

So generally speaking in Tulsa County Harris dealt with near 13,700 cases per year by taking 100 to court and horse-trading on 13,600 others. Were those decisions deeply thought out after careful investigation based on justice, expediency, available staff or costs? If Oklahoma underfunds the District Attorney Offices can we really expect a fair, careful and balanced system of justice?

Botkin notes, “A 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts survey found that 26 percent of all drivers in the state are uninsured – the highest rate in the nation – which can push up insurance premiums and hit-and-run accidents.

“But another incentive underlies the program. It will be overseen by the District Attorneys Council rather than law enforcement, and the state’s 27 district attorneys’ offices are expected to receive millions of dollars in citation revenue a year, although no estimates were provided. District attorneys have complained that their revenue sources are diminishing because of state budget cuts and the drop in bounced-check fines.

 

“The cameras will be deployed on a small scale initially. Vehicles with scanners will be sent into the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas to get traffic counts, gauge noncompliance and gather data on the first locations for cameras.

“Within six months, Oklahoma County, Tulsa County and 13 other counties in those areas will be mapped and studied, with the cameras in place, the company estimates. The mobile enforcement units will then drive to other parts of the state, looking for high-volume areas of noncompliance that could be potential spots for camera installation. Within the first year of the program, about 26 cameras will be in place throughout the two metro areas. Another 10 cameras will be installed throughout the rest of the state.

“Additionally, there will be two or three mobile enforcement units mounted on vehicles, bringing the total to nearly 40 cameras statewide.

“’The first program of its kind in the country is certain to attract scrutiny,’ Gatso says in its plan. ‘Our program management is designed to limit the number of issued citations in the opening months, in concert with an inclusive and extensive public awareness campaign.’”

For more of this story from Oklahoma Watch, click here, but the question to keep in mind:  Is this the way we should fund the Oklahoma District Attorney Offices?

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