Watch your speed in Jeff Davis

By 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.