Morrow PD gets new patrol units, motorcycle

Morrow Police Chief James Callaway (right) chats with Director of Administrative Services and Finance Roland Hernandez (left). (Staff Photo: Robin Kemp)

MORROW — A company called Red Speed USA Inc. may put automatic speed cameras and license plate readers in school zones across Clayton County.

Morrow, Jonesboro, Forest Park and Lake City are all considering the move, according to Morrow Police Chief Jimmy Callaway.

“Once all the different councils come to an agreement and sign this MOU (memorandum of understanding), then all the city police chiefs, along with Red Speed, would go to the county school board and petition the school board for permission to do this,” Callaway said. “And at that point, we could go live with it.”

He added the school board would have to approve the plan.

The issue is one of public safety, Callaway told the Morrow City Council during its April 23 work session. Speeding fines would be split between law enforcement agencies and Red Speed. However, Callaway said, existing laws prevent the school system from getting any cut of the funds.

“They’re looking at Forest Park, Jonesboro and us (Morrow), and what it is, it’s a laser speed sensor, but in school zones,” Callaway said. “The law just changed last (legislative) session to where municipalities and counties are allowed to put speed detection devices only in school zones.”

In April 2018, House Speaker David Ralston extended the session past its midnight stopping time to push through HB 978, a school-zone camera bill that became law. Ralston’s son was a lobbyist on behalf of the company behind the bill, American Traffic Solutions. Former Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law.

Critics say school zone cameras pose a threat to civil liberties and are an example of unwarranted government intrusion.

However, Callaway said they could do double-duty by catching suspects on the run.

For example, Callaway said, if an armed robbery took place at Waffle House at 2:30 a.m, “and the bad guy goes down Morrow Road, goes toward the highway by Old Dixie. If we have that information, we can go back and actually get that plate, get that car, during that actual time. So for the criminal investigative part, I do like that part of it. But I also like it for the safety within the school zones.”

Another possible use, Callaway said, could be “if a wanted subject or if there is a protective order for his children, for custody, for domestic violence, once that car goes in that school zone, if there is one and it’s tied to that plate, it pushes that information out to every single patrol car that’s on duty at the same time. The alert comes up on the computer, it dings inside of the police car, it shows us a picture of the car, it shows a picture of the tag and what the offense is — if they’re suspended, if they have a warrant for aggravated assault, if there’s a protective order. So there’s a lot of safety benefits to this program.”

Callaway said the speed study numbers “were a little off” on Reynolds Road, “but on Morrow Road, for one day, 8,700 cars traveled through the school zone, and out of those 8,700 cars, 100 were 11 miles over the speed limit.”

The system would automatically generate notifications of each violation, Callaway explained. “When we get to work the next day, we go through each one of those violations and we approve them and it mails out a citation to the driver.”

The city and Red Speed would share the revenues, “but the difference in this and the old red light cameras, which I didn’t care for too much back when we had them, this is a distinctive safety issue for children in school zones, and on top of that, it’s an added benefit for having 24-hour LPRs (license plate readers) in both those areas.”

In January, the Jonesboro City Council heard about a Red Speed school zone traffic study from Chief Clifford Kelker. Jonesboro would get 65 % of the revenues, while Red Speed would take 35 percent.

The 1,271 speeding violations in Jonesboro’s sample meant at least $95,325 in fines. That translates into $61,961.25 for Jonesboro and over $30,000 for Red Speed.

Callaway said Red Speed’s president “would like to come and address this council and do a presentation.”

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