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Speeders Not Smiling at Pasadena's Radar Camera

August 21, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

A picture is worth a thousand words, according to the old proverb.

Well, in Pasadena it's worth about $60, and some motorists are hopping mad about it.

Since June, the Pasadena Police Department has been using a device called the Zellweger Uster photographic Doppler radar, which detects speeding vehicles and snaps a photo of the license plate and the driver's face.

Although the vast majority of the 1,344 motorists who have received citations are expected to pay their fine or go to traffic school, 10 have decided to fight their citations in court.

The first challenges are scheduled to start Tuesday in Pasadena Municipal Court.

Some of the defendants are unsure of how they will fight the machine, and one woman said she may resort to begging for mercy.

But one man, Joseph L. Logsdon of Pasadena, is spending more than $1,000 to hire an attorney to fight the Swiss-made "robocop."

Help Offered

Thomas D. Hogue, Logsdon's attorney, said he believes use of the machine violates the U.S. Constitution and the state vehicle code.

Hogue said his firm has put two attorneys on the case and he has received calls from other attorneys who want to help fight the photo radar.

Hogue said he has even received a few calls from irate citizens who want to donate money for Logsdon's defense.

Logsdon's case comes to trial Sept. 8.

"The momentum is building," Hogue said. "It's becoming a tempest in a teapot."

Pasadena is the first city in the state to use the photo radar. The only other city in the country using it is Paradise Valley, Ariz., which has been using it since October.

The photo radar is a combination of standard traffic radar, a microcomputer, a camera and a flash unit.

A police officer dials in the speed limit, and the device, mounted inside the back of a car, photographs anything traveling faster than that.

In addition to the vehicle's speed and the driver's face, the photograph includes the date where the picture was taken.

The information is later printed out and sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. The photo is stored in case of a legal challenge.

260 Photos an Hour

The device can take 260 photos an hour--a blur compared to the average of two to four tickets an hour that an officer could write.

In two months, 1,344 motorists in Pasadena have received photo radar tickets, according to Traffic Monitoring Technologies, the Friendswood, Tex., company that distributes the machines in the United States.

Of those citations, 794 cases are pending, 252 drivers have paid fines, 189 have signed up for traffic school, 10 plan to challenge them in court and 99 have not responded.

Police Sgt. C. E. Gray believes the device has had a noticeable impact on traffic accidents.

For example, accidents in June decreased by 8% compared to June, 1987. Although there is no way to tell for sure, Gray said he believes the main reason is the photo radar.

"It's doing its job as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I think it's here to stay."

But the assessment of the machine has been less rosy in other quarters.

"It's Big Brother of 1988," Logsdon said.

Hogue said he plans to argue that photo radar is a violation of an individual's constitutional right to due process. Most drivers are unaware that they have been ticketed by the machine because they are not stopped by an officer.

The driver, as a result, often has no recollection of the incident and so is unable to mount an adequate defense, Hogue said.

Also, it takes at least a week to receive a violation notice in the mail, and the delay may make it even harder for a person to recall the circumstances of the incident, Hogue said.

The circumstances are important, because in California drivers can be convicted only if they are driving beyond what is considered a "prudent and reasonable" speed.

Under the state's basic speed law, drivers are allowed to go faster or slower than the posted limit depending on road conditions.

If it is foggy day and visibility is poor, drivers could be cited for speeding even if they are driving below the posted limit. A driver also could legally exceed the posted limit if visibility is good and there is no other traffic at the time.

Issue Rejected

"After a few weeks, how is anyone supposed to remember where they were driving and whether if was safe or unsafe?" Hogue asked.

Assistant City Prosecutor Christopher Smith said the city rejected the due-process issue as unfounded.

Smith said the photograph and the testimony of the officer monitoring the machine can establish what the prudent and reasonable speed limit was at the time.

The photo would also remind a motorist about the driving conditions so they can defend themselves, Smith said.

Besides, Smith said, "when a person violates the law, they know it, they'll remember."

Hogue said he also believes the city has deployed the photo radar illegally.

According to state law, any vehicle primarily used for traffic enforcement must be clearly marked to alert drivers that they are being monitored.

Mounted in Chevy Blazer

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