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Prescott Valley Tribune | Prescott Valley, Arizona

home : latest news : local February 5, 2016

3/17/2013 8:08:00 AM
Prescott Valley cop nixed wife's 7 photo radar tickets
Independent audit finds 22 instances of officers dismissing infractions for family members
Matt Hinshaw/Courtesy of The Daily CourierA Prescott Valley Police Department photo radar vehicle monitors the speed of traffic traveling eastbound on Florentine Road.
Matt Hinshaw/Courtesy of The Daily Courier
A Prescott Valley Police Department photo radar vehicle monitors the speed of traffic traveling eastbound on Florentine Road.
Consultant makes recommendations for improving local photo enforcement
Public safety consultant John Wintersteen stated the Police Department's photo-enforcement program is "operated in a fair, transparent manner that effectively increases traffic safety within the municipality, with minor areas for improvement."

He listed 11recommendations to improve the system, which began operating in Prescott Valley in October 2006 through a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems.

The recommendations are:

• A general order that all rejections of incidents involving vehicles registered to a police department employee or family member be elevated to the appropriate level within the chain of command. The intent is to "preclude as much as possible public perception that officers are inappropriately rejecting incidents" in which family members are driving.

• Establish clear criteria for police department dismissal of citations issued by mail and filed electronically with the Prescott Valley Magistrate Court. That way, "cases most appropriately decided by the judge in fact come to him as individual cases in open court or in batch filings of motions for dismissal."

• Determine the extent of nonpayment of the $26 process service fee for citations, explore methods to reduce this cost to the town as well as foster fairness to all violators, and establish a process to collect the fees. Recipients of citations face the process service fee if they do not respond to the citation within 30 days. Redflex contracts with process servers who obtain copies of the citation and an additional instruction sheet to be provided to the person with the citation.

• Prepare a three-ring binder of all applicable police department orders related to photo enforcement, the Redflex business rules and other documents for each officer involved in processing the violations.

• Provide a printer to the traffic bureau office in the police department.

• Provide an additional workstation to the traffic bureau with Motor Vehicle Division access.

• Call on every member of the traffic bureau, town attorney's office and appropriate members of the magistrate court staff to work directly with Redflex to request additional pull-down menu items for various screens to properly code incident rejections and dismissals in the SmartOps review, and at other stages of the process.

• Discuss both inside the police department and with others whether placing signs notifying motorists that they are approaching Redflex vans fosters traffic safety.

• Authorize only the magistrate judge to generate dismissal request reports, and that he do so once each business day, to prevent generating "blank" dismissal request reports and risk missing a single violation requested for dismissal on a page.

• Continue to implement the current plan of assigning an additional officer to be the primary reviewing officer in SmartOps, in place of the current practice of assigning a light-duty officer temporarily to perform these duties.

• Require the town manager to inform the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board in writing about the photo-enforcement program review.

Chief Bill Fessler said before he retired Friday - that "most of the policy things that were identified prior to this audit were implemented immediately."

Ken Hedler
Special to the Tribune

PRESCOTT VALLEY - An independent audit documented a number of cases of Prescott Valley police dismissing photo-enforcement violations involving family members using vehicles registered to the officers.

Twenty-two cases involved family members who activated the photo cameras by driving at least 11 mph faster than the posted speed limit, according to a 22-page report by public safety consultant John Wintersteen of Paradise Valley.

The report covered photo enforcement since Redflex Traffic Systems in Phoenix began providing the service in October 2006.

In response to the audit, police have ordered an internal investigation of Sgt. Mark Postula and his supervisor, Lt. Wayne Nelson, which began this past week, Administrative Sgt. Brandon Bonney said Thursday. The investigation could lead to disciplinary actions against both men, he said.

"We have reviewed the outside audit, and we are in the process of completing administrative interviews and will be compiling our findings for (police) administration to determine what to do," Bonney said.

The audit does not identify by name Postula, Nelson or anyone else Wintersteen interviewed.

Postula and Nelson referred comments to Bonney, who serves as spokesman for the police department, which has 61 sworn officers and 14 civilian employees.

Nelson joined the force in 1989 and was promoted to lieutenant in January 2009, according to the Human Resources Department. Postula joined the department in 1995 and was promoted to sergeant in 2007.

Wintersteen's report states that a traffic sergeant (Postula) admitted to dismissing seven violations over a four-year period that ended in February 2012 involving his wife.

The minimum photo-enforcement ticket for speeding is $223.

Wintersteen indicated that he focused his review initially on the rejection of violations involving vehicles registered to police officers.

He stated he could not identify photo enforcement violations involving spouses if they have different last names or drove vehicles registered to them.

Determining whether police dismissed violations for spouses with different surnames and driving their own vehicles could be the subject of the internal investigation, Bonney said.

However, he added, "I don't know the extent they are going to be able to look into it."

Redflex does not store photo images of speeding or red-light violations for longer than a year, according to Bonney.

The town government hired Wintersteen to conduct the review after "various officials," including the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training, received an anonymous tip that Prescott Valley police were dismissing photo enforcement citations for officers and their families. Town Manager Larry Tarkowski, Deputy Town Attorney Steven Zraick and paralegal Cindy Corcoran initially met with Wintersteen on Dec. 12, 2012, to go over the project, including the anonymous allegation as one aspect of his audit, according to his review. He completed it March 1.

The town authorized paying him as much as $4,000 but had not received the bill as of Wednesday afternoon, Zraick said.

The town hired Wintersteen instead of conducting an internal audit because "we did not want to show any outside prejudice," former Police Chief Bill Fessler said in an interview before he announced his retirement this past Friday.

Wintersteen stated that he would interview command officers, the traffic sergeant "who does most of the work and oversees the day-to-day photo enforcement program" and police officers who review incidents in SmartOps (Redflex's proprietary online information system) to find out what they knew about dismissing citations for motorists who drove vehicles registered to an officer.

He reported the sergeant acknowledged that he asked the lieutenant to reject two incidents involving the sergeant's wife, and that he had rejected three more incidents after discussing them with the lieutenant.

"He indicated knowledge that other officers who review incidents in SmartOps had rejected two additional incidents, as was the practice for not just the traffic sergeant's wife but for all Prescott Valley officers," the report stated.

Wintersteen quoted Fessler as saying Postula and Nelson rejected the incidents in SmartOps, which means the dismissals took place before notices of violations or citations could be issued.

"This review found there is no pattern of repeated violations with the same family member of an officer (except for the traffic sergeant's wife as described above), that most officers (except those with common last names) do not have any incidents involving a registered owner with the same last name, and in a substantial number of those (who) do have incidents the address of the registered owner is out of the Prescott Valley region and is often out-of-state," Wintersteen wrote.

Fessler told The Daily Courier newspaper that police exercised the same discretion to reject violations involving their family members as they have applied to rejecting them for members of the public whose driving triggers the flashing cameras from Redflex.

Wintersteen's report states police have discretion for rejecting incidents that appear on the SmartOps screen after viewing the images for clarity, matching Motor Vehicle Division information and so forth.

The report states Fessler learned about the allegation of rejected violations three weeks before Wintersteen began his review in December.

"The chief stated unequivocally that he had no knowledge that the practice of rejecting incidents involving vehicles registered to a Prescott Valley officer existed, and had he known he would have immediately put a stop to it," the report states.

Wintersteen determined police officers received a "lack of comprehensive guidance" when they processed incidents involving vehicles registered to police employees.

"Practices that rep-resent a real or perceived conflict of interest had become accepted," he wrote, while adding an oral directive from Fessler "had effectively ended this practice" by requiring police to refer the incident to the appropriate level within the chain of command.

Wintersteen detailed several recommendations (see related story), and concluded, "The number of incidents identified during this review as involving or possibly involving a family member of a Prescott Valley officer is infinitely small compared to the 300,000 photo enforcement in-cidents since the fall of 2006. The Prescott Valley photo enforcement program is largely well run, and supported by members of the Police Department and others involved on the town staff."

The report drew praise from Tarkowski, who said, "I thought the consultant did a good job, and he certainly is experienced with photo enforcement in the way it operates in other communities."

Photo enforcement has enjoyed support from Tarkowski, management in the Police Department and Town Council, who believe it reduces accidents by encouraging motorists to slow down. They have claimed from the start that photo en-forcement is "revenue-neutral" for the town.

However, a number of residents remain strongly opposed. They see photo enforcement as intrusive and flawed.

Related Stories:
• Prescott Valley to deploy officers on patrol when photo enforcement ends
• Prescott Valley officers disciplined in photo radar flap
• PVPD officers challenging disciplinary action in photo radar probe
• Letter: Speed radar incident more than 'controversy'
• Council to discuss future of photo radar enforcement
• Time to rethink radar cameras, but decision has consequences
• How photo enforcement works, from flash to fine
• News investigation reveals Redflex bribery in Chicago

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Article comment by: Shame and Disgrace

Until all involved from ticket fixing to the bar fight, to poor town management of the police force and employees, this is just going to be swept away and the PV residents will never get justice. This is not just about the cameras, this is about LEO acting like they are above the law and can get away with fixing tickets and whatever else they can with no reprecussions.

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2013
Article comment by: Audrey Parker

Police officers recevied "lack of comprehensive guidance" Wintersteen intones? Who is kidding whom? Even kids know what is cheating and what isn't, and they don't need a math degree or whistle blower to enlighten them. Shame on the PV Police Department looking after its own.

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Article comment by: Billy Jack

The best thing to do would be to organize a group of people to picket around these idiotic traffic control SUV's until the city is embarrassed enough to scrap the program!!!

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