Newell: How will New Orleans get right with thousands who paid erroneous camera tickets?

Newell Normand
February 05, 2020 - 3:19 pm

Are you one of the many New Orleanians who received a traffic camera ticket that you think you didn’t deserve? You’re certainly not alone, as the universally hated devices are reported to have wrongly ticketed drivers for speeding in school zones on days when schools were not in session. Now, the New Orleans Inspector General has issued a harsh report on the operation of the city’s traffic camera safety program. Newell invited WWL-TV Investigative Reporter Mike Perlstein onto the program Wednesday afternoon to discuss.

“I’ve been through the Inspector General’s report and it’s really not pretty from any perspective,” Newell began.

“The question raised here is did anything go right with this program?” Perlstein said. “The IG found such a wide variety of mistakes and errors - both errors that affected people that paid tickets that never should have been issues, and also errors where the city didn’t collect on tickets where they were in the right. The biggest problem of course, one that’s been well litigated with the city on hook for some $35 million to refund tickets, was that they administered the program wrong by not having law enforcement officers reviewing the tickets in violation of their own regulations.”

“So this transcends multiple administrations,” Newell continued. “The bulk of the issues outlined in the IG’s report fall to the Landrieu administration, and as a result there are $730,000 in payments the city wasn’t owed that ended up being paid by almost 6,000 drivers.”

“There are those tickets issued in school zones when the schools weren’t in session - in some cases there is movement of schools quite frequently in this charter era and some schools had left behind a vacant building, but the camera was still there issuing tickets. In addition to collecting on these unwarranted tickets, the city did nothing to give refunds. In some cases, years have passed, people have died or moved away, and it becomes problematic to refund those improperly collected tickets.”

“Where’s that going to come from, that $35 million owed as a result of this lawsuit? Is there any intention for the city to pay this money back?” Newell asked.

“The city has a multi-million-dollar backlog of settlements and judgements owed for everything from slip-and-fall accidents to big ticket suits like this faulty traffic camera program,” Perstein said. “People are told to go to the back of the line to wait to collect, and good luck to them. People whose properties were damaged by the SELA construction on the Uptown streets, when all their suits - not a dime has been paid there. It’s a very open question... the city has not taken positive steps to try to pay these people back.”

“That drives me a little crazy,” Newell said. “It’s odd that one can get away with a certain level of incompetence or negligence, and there’s no ramification. It doesn’t seem fair to just say, ‘go get in that line and we don’t care.’ This isn’t a knock on the mayor, this would apply to any administration in any branch of government - how do you encourage them to be better? There’s no ramifications. You’re not minding the ship, you're not fully funding these departments, you’re engaged in negligent or sometimes intentionally damaging acts and it’s just - whatever!”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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