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To pay or not to pay: The photo radar-ticket question

8:38 PM, Oct 2, 2011   |    comments
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There I am, in my car, with a stupid look on my face. Busted.

Did I mention there's a nice little online video of me breaking the law, when I stopped in the crosswalk?

Denver fines drivers for that, Aurora does not.

Before you continue reading, I should point out I didn't do this story because I received a violation. The timing of my ticket and my assignment just worked out this way.

Ron Goldstein got a letter in the mail as well.

"It goes against the traditional way of getting a ticket," Goldstein said. "We received a notice of violation basically showing my mother in her car. Catching my mother supposedly speeding."

Mr. Goldstein called me, asking if the photo radar ticket was valid. He was hoping my answer would be:

"That it's not enforceable, really," he said.

Goldstein heard something about these tickets being valid only if served in person.

There is a Colorado law that says police have to serve the ticket within 90 days of the infraction. But it does not have to be personally served to be valid, 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson said.

Below is an excerpt from the statute:

"(II) If the state, a county, a city and county, or a municipality detects any alleged violation of a municipal traffic regulation or a traffic violation under state law through the use of an automated vehicle identification system, then the state, county, city and county, or municipality shall serve the penalty assessment notice or summons and complaint for the alleged violation on the defendant no later than ninety days after the alleged violation occurred. If a penalty assessment notice or summons and complaint for a violation detected using an automated vehicle identification system is personally served, the state, a county, a city and county, or a municipality may only charge the actual costs of service of process that shall be no more than the amount usually charged for civil service of process."

All drivers who are caught by photo radar or red light camera get their citations in the mail.

The first question is whether they pay them.

Denver has four photo red light intersections and four active photo speed vans.

The intersection with the most tickets is E.6th Ave. and Lincoln Street.

From January through August of this year, Denver issued 28,526 red light citations. More than 50 percent or 14,393 of those were paid, 14,133 were not paid.

During the same period, Denver issued 110,030 photo speed tickets, 69,177 of those were paid.

Out of roughly 50,000 unpaid tickets, contractor Garza Processing Service personally served 1,330 notices.

"We would like to improve the collection rate, obviously because that means we're having successful operation," Cap. Joseph Padilla of Denver Police Department's Traffic Operations Bureau said. "It is an area of concern."

Aurora doesn't have any photo radar vans, but has ten intersections equipped with red light cameras.
The most active intersection in the city is southbound Airport Boluevard at Easy Alameda Avenue.

From January to June of this year, the city issued 19,633 tickets. Of those, 12,821 were paid.

Two thousand, five hundred ninety five tickets were "eligible for service," the city told 9NEWS. It's not clear if all of those tickets were personally served.

In Aurora, three people personally serve the citations. The police department tells 9NEWS it's looking to hire a fourth.

"We continue to work on ways to improve the collections process," Bob Friel, spokesman for the Aurora Police Department, said. "It's no secret to us and to many of your viewers that there are some issues with how we collect fines. What we're trying to do is strengthen the teeth so to speak that go with the collections process."

Aurora PD says the new collections process could be implemented as early as this year.

Denver already sends some tickets to collections. This happens when someone has already been found guilty at court and fails to pay or when someone was scheduled for court and failed to appear, according to the Denver Court Administrator.

Although thousands of tickets were issued in Denver, only 261 went to collections from January to March of this year.

Denver authorities say if a driver gets a ticket in the mail, does not contest it, does not pay it, and it's not personally served, nothing will happen to that driver, at least right now.

"We're also looking at working with the courts and expanding our collections program," Padilla told 9NEWS.

Both Denver and Aurora say every ticket is valid.

"When the violation is first sent to the person that has run a red light, there is clear video evidence of that fact, we at that time believe that there is a clear violation and that individual owes the fine for that violation," Friel said.

9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson agreed.

"They're absolutely valid," Robinson said. "But there are severe limits in what the city can do about them. They can send you to collections, or they can have a warrant issued within their own jurisdiction."

Neither Denver nor Aurora issues warrants for unpaid tickets.

"Any time a motorist ignores a ticket, they're taking a huge risk," Robinson said. "It's just dumb."
If you choose not to pay a ticket in either city, you face paying an even bigger fine. If the ticket is personally served, you could be stuck with an additional $40 dollar penalty in Aurora and between $29 to $59 dollars in Denver, sometimes as high as $80, if a violation occurred in a school zone.

"It's really up to these cities how far they want to go to collect this money. They have the power to issue a warrant, whether they choose to or not, they absolutely have the power to send the ticket out to collections, which could affect your credit rating, what they can't do is send the judgment to the state to prevent your license from being renewed. They will never count as points, whether they're personally served or not," Robinson said.

Me, I'm paying mine. Goldstein says he will pay his mother's ticket as well.

"I'm just going to pay this thing and get this thing out of my hair and be done with it," he said.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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