Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red light cameras and police limitations

From the outset of the Red Light Camera Program, my stance has been that the police department supports it if it’s for safety purposes, not generating revenue. We’ve now come to a crossroads in which continuing the program as it’s currently run is causing us to do a rather unsafe thing: pull two traffic enforcement officers off the street a day to review the violations. That’s two officers who could otherwise be responding to calls for service, enforcing traffic laws on highways and streets, helping stranded motorists and providing traffic control at significant events.

The Special Operations Division reports that each red light camera generates about 20 violations per day. At present, there are 20 red light cameras, with another 10 to be installed by the end of the summer. This equates to 600 violations to review per day, or about 4,200 a week. The officers must watch the video of each violation to determine if it clearly shows a car running a red light. Officers are currently able to review about 43 violations per hour. Therefore, (with an occasional break for the officers) it takes about 95 hours a week to review the violations, which is more than the work of two full-time officers. Another 12 hours a week is necessary for a sergeant’s review and administration of the program.

Court dates for those who have pleaded not guilty to red light camera tickets have not started yet, and if officers were called into court on these cases often, it would take even more time away from their patrol duties.

Suffice it to say, we cannot go on like this. We are under a hiring freeze and already have reduced manpower due to dozens of early retirements last month. We can ill afford to take two officers away from their regular duties of public safety. It would cost about $150,000 a year to assign two full-time officers to review these violations. If 4,200 violations are issued a week at $100 a piece (another $13.50 goes to court costs), the cost to hire these officers could theoretically be taken care of with the revenue from four days’ worth of violations.

We don’t want this to be about the money, but some is necessary to run the program, and we’re asking the city to work with us on arranging that. I was heartened to hear from city officials at Tuesday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting that red-light running at the location of the original red light cameras, 39th Street and Southwest Trafficway, has dropped 80 percent since the cameras were installed in February. That kind of increased roadway safety is truly priceless.

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