Can You Use Red Light Camera Video Footage As Evidence?

Why are police barred by some state laws from accessing and using images from the controversial cameras for anything other than traffic enforcement? The knowledge that the cameras could provide vital clues in the unsolved cases can be frustrating for detectives.

Washington is among the few states that bar police from using images from red-light cameras in criminal investigations. The way the 2005 law is tailored, even if a homicide, abduction or any other serious crime occurs within full view of the cameras, the images cannot be used by police, said King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Don Raz.

The tight restriction was written into the law to ease concerns about violating privacy rights. The law that prevents police from using the photos in criminal investigations was drafted to appease those who feared the erosion of privacy rights. It reads: "No photograph, microphotograph, or electronic image may be used for any purpose other than enforcement of violations under this section nor retained longer than necessary to enforce this section." In other states, footage from red-light cameras has been used to solve a variety of crimes.

A red-light camera in Tempe, Ariz., captured images of a 21-year- old college student being dragged to her death when a drive-by purse snatcher caught the student's hands in the purse strings. Police traced the car to its owner through the camera footage, according to published reports.