License plate scanning cameras coming to Columbus to cut down on uninsured drivers

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Tuesday night, the Columbus City Council voted to contract with SECURIX Systems to install cameras throughout the city to scan license plates and identify and fine uninsured drivers.

SECURIX says Mississippi has the highest percentage of uninsured cars in the country. However, Vice Mayor and Ward 2 Councilman Joe Mickens says the choice is not that simple for many people in Columbus.

“Do I pay my insurance or do I feed my kids? Do I pay my insurance…or do I pay rent?” the vice mayor offered as examples.

“This is a very low-income area in the city,” Vice Mayor Mickens added. “A lot of our people are living below the poverty line.”

It’s one of the reasons that he and Mayor Keith Gaskin are hesitant about the decision to bring SECURIX Systems’ Automatic License Plate Reader system to Columbus to cut down on uninsured driving.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, we had a (similar) system in here before, a few years back, where they had cameras throughout the city of Columbus,” Vice Mayor Mickens says. “And it didn’t work then.”

The cameras take pictures of the license plate of any car driving by. The photos are then run through a database of all uninsured Mississippi vehicles. Citations are issued to those without coverage. SECURIX says that those tickets have the potential to create millions of dollars in revenue for Columbus within five years.

But the vice mayor isn’t sure this is the best time to put such a program into place.

“When you really look at it, the makeup of the city, we’re looking at people that live below the poverty line,” he says. “We’re coming out of a bad COVID situation and plenty of people are stressed out.”

State law requires all Mississippi drives to carry proof of insurance. But Columbus resident Pat Gurganus says these cameras feel like an invasion of privacy.

“It’s just a right to have the freedom to drive down the road and not be watched by Big Brother,” she says.

However, fellow Columbus driver Christopher Williams does see some of the benefits.

“It may be a little bit of an extreme, definitely a measure a government or a state would take to ensure that uninsured drivers stay off the road, but I don’t think it’s totally bad.”

And Vice Mayor Mickens agrees.

“I’m not totally against the cameras, but as the mayor and I discussed it, the timing, we don’t have to rush into this,” he says. “My decision last night was not to shoot it down, my decision was to table it.”

SECURIX describes its service as a public safety program and says the citations could actually help drivers avoid higher fines and court appearances.

Representatives from the company told the city council it would take between two and three months to have the system up and running.

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