The city is considering license plate scanning cameras in an effort to crack down on uninsured drivers.
Representatives from Securix, an Atlanta-based company, made a pitch during Thursday’s work session to add their Automated National Non-Invasive Insurance Enforcement system to the city’s major roadways.
Attorney Robert Wilkinson, who represents Securix, and who also is the city attorney for Ocean Springs, explained that the system captures tag numbers and compares them to a national insurance database to see if the driver is insured.
Wilkinson explained he has recused himself from any matters involving Securix and Ocean Springs, which uses the program.
“Mississippi leads the nation in the number of uninsured motorists, which is around 30 percent,” he said. “That means one out of every three cars you see does not have insurance. … In talking to (police chiefs) around the state, we’ve found that that 30 percent number is low. In Ocean Springs in 2020, in 50 percent of the accidents at least one motorist did not have insurance.”
The Securix program uses Automated License Plate Readers to scan plates as drivers pass by a camera, Wilkinson said.
“ALPRs are being used by the government every day,” he said. “If you drive on I-10, when you cross into Alabama a photo is taken of your tag. It’s done by Homeland Security, it’s done by (the Drug Enforcement Administration.)”
There is no cost to the city, Wilkerson said. Citations must be written by sworn police officers, and the company will reimburse the city $25 per hour for officers who monitor the system and write the tickets.
Wilkinson said that in Ocean Springs, Securix has put up six cameras so far, with seven or eight more planned. As a car passes one of them, it takes a picture of the tag and compares it to a database of every driver in Mississippi who has insurance.
If the driver has no insurance, Securix has the information double-checked to make sure it’s correct, he said. A sworn officer in the city can swear out a citation, and a letter is sent to the driver letting them know their vehicle has been tagged as having no insurance.
“The letter tells them if they do have insurance to contact us,” he said. “… We contact the insurance company, and if they do have insurance then we correct the information in the system.”
People who don’t have insurance can agree to enter into a diversion program, he said.
“You can, first and foremost, get insurance,” he said. “Second, they pay a fee of $300 and then they have to complete a video online explaining why having insurance is important.”
The money from the fee is split between the company and the city, Wilkerson said, and the driver does not have to go to court and gets to keep their driver’s license. Those who don’t respond to Securix’s letter or who refuse to participate in the diversion program take their chances in the court system.
If they are found guilty, they have to pay a fine and court fees, and their license is suspended and can’t be reinstated until they have proof of insurance and pay a reinstatement fee to the Department of Public Safety, he said.
The cameras can also be set up to recognize state emergency alerts, including Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts and law enforcement Be On the Look Outs, Wilkinson said.
“If there was a child kidnapped and they put an Amber Alert out, if that vehicle passes that camera your dispatcher will get an alert within five seconds,” Wilkerson said.
Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones asked if the system is being used anywhere else in the state. Josh Gregory, a consultant with Frontier Strategies, which is helping to market Securix’s services, said that it was up and running in Ocean Springs and would have a “soft launch” in Pearl next week. Senatobia is starting the program May 1.
Columbus city attorney Jeff Turnage asked if the program had a remedial effect with uninsured drivers, and if they continued to maintain insurance afterwards.
“There has been a huge issue with people getting a card that says six months and then canceling after a month, but they still have a card,” Wilkinson said.
“You’re now seeing people who can go online and pay $10 and get a (fake) insurance card. Our system knows it’s not real. You can’t go around this.”
After the meeting Jones, who brought the program to the council’s attention, said he thought it was a good deal for the city in part because the cameras could also give police a real-time view of a situation if they have to respond to a call in that area.
“I think it’s a good idea because it will allow us to get more cameras,” Jones said. “They will be monitored, and if police get a shots fired call they’ll be able to see what they’re getting into when they get there.”
Jones said he was unsure whether the city would put out a request for proposals for the service or simply move ahead with Securix.
“We’ll put them on the agenda and get (Turnage) to look over the contract and determine what we want to do,” Jones said. “I don’t know of any other companies that do this. I think it’s only the one company, so we’ll probably move forward with them if the council approves it.”
Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard said he wanted to get more input before he made any decisions.
“It sounds like a good idea with all the traffic we have coming in from the Memphis area and with the Alabama people coming in,” he said. “I would like to get some type of citizen input just to see how people would feel about it. I don’t want to say they’re invading your privacy, but every time you drive by the cameras they’re taking a picture of your tag.”
He also said he would like to see the city put out a request for proposals.
Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene said he didn’t see a downside.
“I can’t figure out why I would be opposed to that right now,” he said. “As a person who has to carry insurance on his car, it burns me up that there are people that do not. … They’re skirting the law and it affects my paycheck because my premiums go up.
“I’m not a Big Brother kind of guy, but I have no problem with a camera taking a picture of your car and saying you don’t have insurance,” he added.
Police Chief Fred Shelton said he didn’t think it would be a problem meeting the requirement that sworn officers monitor the cameras and write the citations.
“Other places use retired officers who come back to do it,” he said. “Or we could use an officer who has been put on desk duty for whatever reason, so they aren’t just sitting there doing nothing.”
Mayor Keith Gaskin declined to comment when contacted by The Dispatch.
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