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Oct 4, 2009 11:34 PM by Jthibodeaux

Vandals burn speed van in Westwego

For the second time in two months, vandals have disabled an SUV automated to write speeding tickets in Westwego.

But Assistant Police Chief Ronald Still says a video camera in the back may have photographed the culprit who poured gasoline along the back bumper of the Ford Escape and set it on fire last week.

"He should be on camera," Still said.
The arson did about $2,500 in damage on Sept. 24, but Still says the SUV will be parked in Westwego again, after repairs.

It is equipped by Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Arizona with cameras, radars and lights to record traffic, detect speeders and take pictures of license plates while parked on a roadside.

In Westwego, the SUVs are set to ticket anyone going eight miles over the limit. A police officer reviews video before tickets are issued and motorists can challenge them.

In August, someone cut the wires on the radar gun mounted to the vehicle. No one was arrested.

Still said vandalism is not uncommon for the vehicles - one was rolled into a canal in Lafayette.

The Westwego City Council approved the vans in September 2008 as a cost-effective way to reduce speeding and save lives. Within a month of using the trucks, speeding tickets plummeted, Still said.

However, some residents and City Council members view the automated vans as a money maker for the city and an unfair way to enforce speeding laws. Similar complaints have been lodged in New Orleans and throughout Jefferson Parish, where residents have argued that the speed vans do not give people a chance to confront their accuser. However, court challenges regarding the automated tickets have failed.

Redflex, which has a five-year contract with the city, and Westwego split the money from the fines collected, with Redflex receiving $19.50 for tickets less than $40 and $32.75 for tickets where drivers exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph.

Despite the vandalism, Still said the Police Department is very pleased with the system. Many drivers have changed their ways, he said.

"It's done its job, it's saved lives. It's slowed people
down," Still said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

 

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