Traffic enforcement cameras could be returning to Lafayette Parish in 2021.
Blue Line Solutions, a Tennessee-based photo enforcement technology company, has been talking to leaders in Youngsville and Carencro about installing speed cameras in school zones.
"I always say that traffic enforcement is the only thing a police officer can do that's proactive," said Mark Hutchinson, a former deputy chief and CEO of Blue Line Solutions. "Everything else is reactive. You answer a call to a crash. You answer a call to a domestic violence situation. You answer a call to whatever. But with traffic enforcement, you have the ability to stop the death, to stop the carnage before it happens. And that's why I love what I do so much."
Youngsville leaders responded favorably to Hutchinson's pitch during a November council meeting, with one councilmember saying he "couldn't imagine it wouldn't be a good thing."
The speed cameras wouldn't be installed in Youngsville until after the holidays, at the earliest, because a contract between the city and company would first require introduction and approval by the council.
Youngsville Police Chief Rickey Boudreaux said he has high hopes for the program.
"Eighty percent of the complaints and injuries to officers come from traffic stops, so this would take away from that kind of contact. It is safer for the officers," Boudreaux said. "It also frees that officer up that I have working radar in the school zones to be able to go somewhere else and address some of the problems in the neighborhoods instead of being stuck in the school zones for that time."
Conversations in Carencro have been more preliminary, but the city's police chief said if Youngsville implements the cameras with favorable results, he expects Carencro to follow suit.
"I'm anxious to see the pros and cons," said Carencro Police Chief David Anderson. "We've briefly discussed the program, but we're going to have a formal meeting as soon as the COVID stuff allows us to."
Blue Line Solutions provided Youngsville and Carencro leaders with speed studies to demonstrate the need for its program in school zones. Both cities have schools located on rural, two-lane highways.
Speed studies were conducted in school zones from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 21-25 in Youngsville and Carencro. Speeding was defined in the studies as a vehicle traveling more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit.
In Youngsville, a total of 3,237 speeding violations were recorded out of 12,572 vehicles traveling on South Larriviere Road in Southside High's school zone during the five-day period, according to a report by Blue Line Solutions. Another 985 speeding violations were recorded out of 33,877 vehicles on Chemin Metairie Parkway near Ascension Episcopal School and 11 violations of 6,647 vehicles traveling on Savoy Road near Youngsville Middle.
In Carencro, a total of 683 speeding violations were recorded out of 4,213 vehicles traveling on Teema Road near Carencro Heights Elementary. Another 1,503 speeding violations were recorded out of 5,749 vehicles traveling on Butcher Switch Road in Carencro High's school zone.
What Anderson said concerned him was the number of high-speed violations recorded, with 611 of the 1,503 violations in Carencro High's school zone at 15-20 mph over the posted speed and 225 of those violations at 21 mph or higher over the speed limit.
"I don't know why anyone would have concerns about making school zones safer. The reason we would even consider this is as a way to increase the safety of the children in these school zones," Anderson said. "I do have some concerns myself, and I want to make sure that this is not a company like Redflex. I know that we didn't want Redflex here in Carencro."
Lafayette Consolidated Government had a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems for the entirety of its camera enforcement program from 2007 to 2017. The use of the traffic violation cameras was hotly debated then and continues to be a controversial topic in other areas of the state where their use continues.
In its infancy, fines from Redflex citations generated about $1.8 million per year for the Lafayette Police Department, but revenue dropped to about $1 million annually near the end of the contract. More than $10 million worth of fines were never collected by Redflex during its 10-year program in Lafayette, which was one reason city-parish leadership opted not to renew its contract with the company during Mayor-President Joel Robideaux's administration.
Redflex and other traffic enforcement camera companies have been challenged in court over the constitutionality of their programs. Judges in the New Orleans area ordered parish governments to reimburse millions in fines to motorists in recent years, and another lawsuit is working its way through the legal system in the Baton Rouge area.
Hutchinson said Blue Line Solutions is different from other traffic camera companies in Louisiana.
Each city is able to set a threshold for what triggers a speeding ticket and the fines associated with violations, Hutchinson said. He said his company collects the payments and cuts a check for 60% of the revenue each month to the city.
The company's pitch has been appealing to city leaders not just for the unmanned speed enforcement and extra revenue, but also for associated technology and police funding elements.
Blue Line Solutions uses lidar technology that's similar to radar, except laser beams are used instead of radio waves to identify and record a vehicle's speed. Laser light waves are better at generating more detailed images than radio waves.
The lidar technology and cameras can also aid law enforcement in quickly finding vehicles linked to crimes, Hutchinson said.
"Let's say Lafayette has a stolen vehicle, and they put it in the system," Hutchinson said. "And that vehicle drives past one of these cameras. The chief or his officers get an immediate notification that that stolen vehicle has passed this camera. So they know which way it's headed, and it gives them an idea on what they need to do. Same thing for wanted individuals. If you do use them in school zones, it's really good for the sex offender registration list to know if sex offenders are coming into the schools on a daily or weekly basis."
The company also reimburses cities for 100% of the hours an officer spends using its technology.
"This gives you another officer on shift in any part of the day that normally wouldn't be out there," Hutchinson said. "That puts another officer in uniform to deter crime, to respond to calls or, God forbid, to answer or help another officer in the line of duty that's being hurt."
Anderson said Blue Line Solutions sounds more promising than other companies that have offered photo enforcement in Louisiana, but he still plans to approach the proposition cautiously.
"I want to make sure that this is something that is good for the community and for everybody, not just for the kids, but for everybody," Anderson said. "If we decide to go with it, I want to make sure that this is a fair system we'd be putting in place."