The flawed argument for Electronic Traffic Enforcement in Gonzales

Gonzales Chief of Police Sherman Jackson, at right, with his pal and School Board candidate, James Moore. (file photo)

Arguing for adoption of an ordinance allowing Electronic Traffic Enforcement (ETE) inside the City of Gonzales, Chief of Police Sherman Jackson recently bemoaned the lack of traffic patrol personnel sufficient to protect students walking to and from school.  On July 11, when he first pitched ETE to Gonzales’ City Council, Jackson said:

“Lots of complaints from various areas about speeders, especially in school zones, Orice Roth (Road) being the main problem…(Electronic Traffic Enforcement) fits us perfect. Safety of our kids, that tops the list.”

Gonzales Middle in background. The Orice Roth Rd School Zone from 7:00-9:00 a.m. and 2:00-4:00 p.m.

On Tuesday Jackson told WAFB:

“So, when I started receiving the complaints, basically I put people out there as much as we couldPolice can’t be there all the timeI have four (traffic patrol?) officers for the City of Gonzales.”

If, as Chief Jackson has declared on multiple occasions, this is about slowing motorists down in school zones, he does not need police “there all the time.”  Patrol officers with radar guns and  citation books only need to be there from 7-9 a.m. and 2-4 p.m., five days a week, nine months a year (exclusive of holidays).

City Council approved $500,000 for baseball fields on July 25.

If, as Chief Jackson seems to lament, Gonzales PD is short-staffed when it comes to patrolmen, why hasn’t he requested additional funding from the City Council; a city council that, by the way, just transferred $500,000 from the General Fund for “the Recreation Department to complete construction of Tee-Joe Baseball Fields.”

Half-a-mile east of Gonzales MS, Tee-Joe Park

Half-a-mile east of Gonzales Middle School on Orice Roth, it begs the question…

How many patrol officers can be added for $500,000?

It is a question that no one bothered to ask.

Mayor Barney Arceneaux subsequently adopted Chief Jackson’s facile argument for a different Baton Rouge TV station on July 25:

“There are still kids that walk, there are still kids that ride bikes, and that is the number one thing. I don’t want to hear someone getting injured or god forbid even getting killed.”

To avoid any confusion, no one wants to hear that a student got injured or killed while walking or biking to school.  And, if it is the grievous problem described by the Chief of Police, immediate corrective measures should be implemented.  According to Ascension School Superintendent David Alexander, “official opening of school for all employees will be Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, and will include three professional preparation days before the first day for students on Tuesday, Aug. 9.”

Stephen Ussery

Stephen Ussery, the dean of all Gonzales PD Traffic Patrol Officers, proposed a solution:

“Nothing replaces that radar gun in the officer’s hands standing on the side of the road, or that unit sitting right there during the peak times when school zones are in. The second thing that you take away, by relying on these electronic devices is officer discretion…I don’t want to be totally against it, but I don’t want us to get away from the backbone of most all police departments, and that is your patrol team.”

None of which begins to address the actual legislation introduced at the July 11 City Council meeting; a six-page, ten-ordinance boilerplate document provided by Blue Line Solutions with no apparent editorial input from Gonzales personnel.  Ill-conceived and poorly crafted, the private contractor is seeking to install equipment and operate ETE for the not nominal fee of 40% off the top.

Proof positive that the introduced ordinance was generated from a form in Blue Line Solutions’ files:

Passage from the ordinances introduce on July 11

Conferring standing to the City of Springhill to sue motorists in the non-existent City Court for the City of Gonzales, Louisiana…

is, to be kind, legally dubious.

Electronic Traffic Enforcement ordinance pulled from Gonzales City Council agenda

The initial plan envisioned a Final Vote during the council’s July 25 meeting after the requisite public hearing.  In a July 20 email CAO Scot Byrd wrote, “(City Attorney) Matt Percy is working on some minor revisions.  We plan to reintroduce and republish.”

The ordinance scheme introduced on July 11 called for Automated Stationary Speed Enforcement (ASE) and Manned Photo Laser (MPL) Systems casting  “the owner of a vehicle…responsible and liable for a civil violation penalty as set forth (below) when and if the vehicle is traveling at a speed in miles per hour greater than the speed limit.”

  • 1-10 MPH over the limit-$130.00 fine ($188.00 in a School Zone)
  • 11-20 MPH over the limit-$140.00 fine ($212.00 in a School Zone)
  • 21-30 MPH over the limit-$160.00 fine ($237.00 in a School Zone)
  • 31 and above MPH over the limit-$190.00 ($267.00 in a School Zone)

If those “minor revisions” include verbiage restricting ETE to School Zones, in keeping with Chief Jackson’s stated argument, it would go a long way toward bolstering his non-existent credibility.  If not, and the true intention of Mayor Arceneaux and supportive City Council members is to implement ETE city-wide, man up and say so.