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Commissioner Pare: Providence made ‘mistake’ in dismissing speed camera tickets

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Tuesday a city attorney made a “mistake” when he asked a Municipal Court judge to dismiss more than a dozen school-zone speed camera tickets that were scheduled for trial last week.

Judge John Lombardi, who also serves as a state representative, agreed to dismiss 15 speed camera tickets last Thursday after a city lawyer suggested Providence Municipal Court may not be the proper jurisdiction to handle the violations based on the alleged speed of the drivers. He said the case should be heard before the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.

The city’s attorney, Noah Kilroy, also told Lombardi some of the tickets were being dismissed because the police officer who reviewed the violation has since retired. In other cases, Kilroy said a representative from Conduent State & Local Solutions Inc. – the company that manages the cameras –was not present to discuss the how the cameras are calibrated. 

But in an interview, Pare said the individuals who appeared in court last week had a “lucky day” because the city should not have agreed to dismiss any of the tickets. In the future, he said, none of the reasons given for last week’s dismissals will be used.

“These are new trials that just happened a couple weeks ago, so there are some bugs that we have to work out,” Pare said.

Providence issued 63,000 speed camera violations in 2018, taking advantage of a relatively new state law that that allows cities and towns to install traffic cameras within a quarter-mile of any type of school and fine all drivers caught traveling at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

The city initially charged violators $95 per ticket, but state lawmakers intervened to lower the price to $50. City officials also agreed to partially refund thousands of drivers after a federal class-action lawsuit was filed challenging various aspects of the program.

Anyone who receives a speed camera ticket is allowed to challenge the violation in Municipal Court, although the court delayed trials throughout 2018 because of the class-action lawsuit.

The trials that were scheduled for last week had also been delayed in previous weeks, but they remained on the docket for Lombardi to hear. But Kilroy, the city’s attorney, asked for each case to be dismissed for a variety of reasons, including the jurisdictional question.

For some of the defendants, Kilroy cited the jurisdiction, the retirement of the officer, the company not having a representative present and a failure to properly issue a violation notice as the reason for dismissal. He joked that it was a “superfecta,” the term used when a bettor accurately predicts the top four finishers in a horse race.

“If I were you, I’d go play the numbers or something,” Lombardi told one woman whose ticket was dismissed. “Maybe you’re going to get lucky.”

But Pare said he’s confident the mistakes won’t continue. He said the federal judge who heard the class-action lawsuit already agreed Municipal Court is the proper jurisdiction for the tickets. He said the city plans to have active police officer review reaffirm of the tickets that the retired officer approved.

Pare said the representatives from Conduent have appeared in Municipal Court in the past, but they didn’t believe they were needed for Thursday. He said he plans to address the matter with the company.

“They’ll cooperate,” he said. “We’ll get through all these logistical issues so we can present a case that upholds the violation.”

While there are still hundreds of violations scheduled for trial, Pare predicted the volume will decrease over time. But he acknowledged it’s the city’s responsibility to prove that a violation occurred.

“There will always be challenges, but not to the extreme ‘we’ve seen’ at the beginning of the program,” he said.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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