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Red light photo cops in Mn

Whatever Happened to Red Light ‘Photo Cops’ in Minnesota?

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Once upon a time – from July 2005 to March 2006 to be specific – a number of Minnesota traffic intersections were guarded by a ‘Photo Cops’ – cameras attached to traffic signals that photographed the license plates of vehicles running red lights. The way it worked was a vehicle running a red light triggered the camera, the camera took a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, and a ticket was mailed out to the registered owner.

The problem was that the owner was presumed guilty, regardless of whether they were driving at the time and to avoid paying a fine, the owner had to prove someone else was driving the vehicle at the time of the violation.

Under Minnesota law, all persons charged with a traffic violation – regardless of how minor – are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty by the State beyond a reasonable doubt.

Recognizing this fundamental Constitutional protection, in 2007 the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down ordinances that utilized Photo Cop traffic enforcement, ruling that no driver – or vehicle owner – has any obligation to prove anything when charged with a traffic violation.

In 2019, at least one jurisdiction – St. Cloud – has experimented with updated video technology in a 90-day pilot project. The new technology, called ERLE (Enhanced Red-Light Enforcement), is touted as a second set of ‘eyes’ for law enforcement.

The ERLE technology is different from Photo Cop because the ticket is issued to the offending driver immediately, not at some later date based on a time-stamped photograph.

The ERLE system, which cost approximately $200,000 to develop, uses two cameras. The first camera focuses on the traffic signal – documenting the second it turns yellow to red. The second camera captures vehicle traffic going through the intersection.

Unlike the Photo Cop, the camera does not capture license plate numbers. If a driver runs a red light, cameras capture the violation, and an alert is sent to an officer positioned down the road with a tone. The officer can watch the video in real time via internet livestream and issue the driver a citation.

The 2019 ERLE pilot project meet with limited success – largely due to several inherent operational issues involving the technology. At this time there are no plans to continue with the ERLE system beyond the pilot project, but that could change if the technological ‘bugs’ can be fixed.

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