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Thursday, July 24, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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(Beason Lawfirm / MGNonline)

(Beason Lawfirm / MGNonline)

Watch your speed in Jeff Davis

Last Modified: Thursday, January 09, 2014 3:08 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Motorists who drive over 70 miles an hour on Interstate 10 through Jeff Davis Parish are favorite targets of local law enforcement agencies. If the sheriff’s department doesn’t get you, a camera could soon be waiting to catch you in the Welsh area.

The Welsh Police Department wants to install a new laser photo speed enforcement radar that captures pictures of vehicles and their license plates and determines their make, model, speed and location.

Drivers won’t have to worry about being stopped by a law enforcement officer. Violators would receive a citation in the mail, which puts motorists at a disadvantage when it comes to contesting possible traffic violations.

The state Department of Transportation and Development will have to issue a permit to implement the program.

The proposed speed enforcement system is a no-lose proposition for Welsh. A company called Blue Line Solutions will provide camera-equipped radars for the program at no cost to the city. Blue Line will also pay the $25-per-hour rate for police officers working the program and agreed to split the revenues from fines with the police department.

Give Welsh credit for covering all of its bases. The cameras would give it two ways to raise money. The city late last year revived the Traffic Enforcement Detail along Interstate 10. Six officers, five-full-time and one part-time, are working the program during off-duty hours at $25 per hour.

Money from those fines is divided between the police department and the city’s general fund. The police chief said 84 tickets were handed out last weekend, and most were for speeding.

Using fines to prop up any government agency’s budget is a risky proposition. An audit of Welsh finances last year showed a deficit of $330,000 in general fund revenues. Most of the loss was attributed to suspension of the TED program, which an auditor said “helps fill that hole and (operating) costs.”

State legislators have been concerned for a long time about local authorities that ticket motorists along interstate highways. That is because fine-based budgeting can encourage overzealous enforcement of traffic laws in order to help meet financial needs.

Former state Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, did something to try and curb abuses when he sponsored Act 188 of 2009. It requires law enforcement agencies in areas without home rule charters to forward fines and penalties to the state if the speeders are going less than 10 mph over the speed limit when they are ticketed.

Unfortunately, the law proved difficult to enforce. Former state Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, in 2010 said cities weren’t turning that money over to the state. McPherson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said Crowley was the only city that obeyed the law.

Cities like Baton Rouge and Lafayette have speed cameras, and they are controversial. Some legislators have tried at every session to end those programs, but they have been unsuccessful. A majority of their colleagues think it’s a local issue better left to voters in those communities.

Interstate highways are another matter. Many citizens believe traffic laws on interstates should be enforced by State Police and no other agencies. And with a handful of exceptions, that is pretty much the way it is done along most of Interstate 10.

Jeff Davis Parish made national news in 1997 when “Dateline NBC” televised a program alleging that innocent people were being stopped and illegally searched by local deputies. Law enforcement authorities blamed the program on defense attorneys trying to protect their drug-smuggling clients and called it “ambush journalism.” They said the allegations were “mostly untrue and mostly exaggerated.”

NBC stood by its program, saying its news-gathering efforts were “accurate, fair and thorough.” The producer said the responses “Dateline” received were the highest number in the show’s history. It generated 5,000 e-mails, 1,500 recorded telephone calls and over 400 faxes.

The American Press got more than 300 calls from readers. Most of them — by more than a 3-to-1 margin — complimented the report and criticized law enforcement and justice system officials.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Foster at the time said, “This is serious. We’ve got people threatening to cancel conventions and conferences and individuals saying they’re afraid to come visit their grandma.”

The furor eventually died down, and many believed the program created something positive and constructive. It focused on an issue that needed some attention.

Jeff Davis Parish is home to some of the best people in the country. They promote civic pride, and are responsible and dedicated citizens. It’s a great place to live and work. However, having both the sheriff’s office and now Welsh police ticketing motorists on Interstate 10 calls into question whether it’s overkill when one of the major goals is to produce operating money for local governments.

Are the parish and city reputations worth the revenues these tickets produce when State Police are perfectly capable of doing the job? Only the people of Jeff Davis Parish can answer that question.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

Posted By: HJB On: 1/18/2014

Title: Wrong motivation

Neither Law Enforcement nor city/parish governments should ever include fines or money derived therein as "funding". Doing so always leads to abuse of the system thru over zealous enforcement. It encourages officers to make questionable stops and leads to quotas being established, either officially or unoffically, all in the name of profit.

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Posted By: Gordon Markle On: 1/12/2014

Title: SPEED CAMERAS

I will not vote for any incumbent state legislator as long as we have RED LIGHT and SPEED CAMERS in this state

Posted By: Jimbob On: 1/11/2014

Title: As if our tax dollars aren't enough!!!

Most families are struggling with the huge amounts of taxes we pay already, now we are going to be hit with this too

Posted By: Jim Hebert On: 1/9/2014

Title: Mr jim Hebert

70% of tickets collected should go to state
15% to parish 15% to city
Speed traps for budget short fall should be illegal

Posted By: Ruxton Istre On: 1/9/2014

Title: Maybe it's time Hwy 190 gets an upgrade...

If Hwy 190 was upgraded, maybe people could go around Welsh and it's ilk in Jeff Davis Parish. Another thing, social media is a great way to remind people not to spend money in parishes like this..then those who live there and have the power to vote can stop this governmental revenue generation.

Posted By: Keith On: 1/9/2014

Title: Welsh is a money grabbing town

Quit defending them. Welsh is in this for one reason only. to put money in their coffers from out of town people rather than paying it themselves. they should be ashamed, but clearly they are not. We need state legislation making it illegal for any town to patrol the interstates. We need to enforce the law on the book for fine of les than 10 mph too. The state should Investigate and force them to pay this to the state and fine them for not doing so.

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