Legal opinion forces shift to Paradise Valley photo enforcement program

A view of photo radar vehicles employed by the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

A view of photo radar vehicles employed by the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

In light of a March 16 legal opinion rendered by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the Town of Paradise Valley is modifying its photo enforcement program to comply with the new legal perspective.

Paradise Valley first implemented its photo radar program in 1987.

At the request of Arizona House of Representatives member Sonny Borrelli, Attorney General Brnovich was asked to reconsider an opinion rendered by previous Attorney General Terry Goddard requiring photo enforcement companies to hold the private investigator classification, according to state statute.

Attorney General Brnovich, in his legal opinion, believes third-party contractors who operate photo enforcement systems in Arizona are subject to the private investigators licensing requirements defined in state statute.

The new legal opinion requires the people who operate photo-radar cameras in cities and towns across Arizona to have a private investigator’s license.

Kevin Burke

Kevin Burke

“It’s an opinion, but we as the Town of Paradise Valley, are going to conform to that opinion,” said Town Manager Kevin Burke in a March 22 phone interview. “If the attorney general thinks the private investigator license makes this a stronger system, then we will go forward with having the private investigator licensee. That doesn’t necessarily affect our operations.”

According to Mr. Burke, as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, March 16 the town’s third-party contractor — in this case Redflex Traffic Systems — is no longer doing any investigative work for the municipality.

“What we are saying is that we are keeping the cameras on because there is nothing that says we (the police department) can’t process that information, it just takes up staff time,” he said. “If you received a citation we are still prosecuting it. We are not suspending any citation we have issued.”

According to Mr. Burke, Redflex employees will attain private investigator licenses as soon as possible while Paradise Valley police officers will now perform duties previously conducted by contract workers until the legal matter is resolved.

Records show in fiscal year 2014-15, the Paradise Valley Municipal Court filed 23,722 photo radar cases equating to $2,147,023 paid in fines — of which $1,347,141 was retained by the town.

The cases filed in fiscal year 2014-15 represents an increase of 8,627 and an increase of $630,000 in dollars retained by the municipality compared to a year earlier, records obtained by the Independent show.

Sonny Borrelli

Sonny Borrelli

“It was alerted to me that the there was a possibility these companies were not operating legally,” said Rep. Borrelli in a March 22 phone interview. “I believe in trust and verify, so I started digging and looking into things.”
Rep. Borrelli says he found examples of the photo enforcement process not following guidelines set by state statute.

“To me, I thought it was really offensive because people should be offered due process,” he said.

“Only a police department can issue a citation. There are only three kinds of people that can conduct investigations in Arizona: a sworn police officer, an insurance adjuster and the other one, is a private investigator. They have to be certified because they can be called upon by the court to be an expert witness.”

Without the private investigator license, Rep. Borrelli believes local courts fail to provide due process in a fair manner to alleged offenders.

“How do you cross-examine a camera?” he asked. “It’s called due process. I took my first oath as a Marine when I was 18 and last time I checked there is no expiration date on that. What good is a law if you don’t enforce it.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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