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Watching You

Santa Fe City Council brings back unmanned speed-enforcement SUVs

August 30, 2017, 11:10 pm

Scott Powell was fed up. It was April of 2012 and the Santa Fe man was one of the thousands of people who’d been mailed a ticket generated by one of the city’s automated speed-enforcement SUVs. He’d tried unsuccessfully to dispute it.

One night after dark, wearing a nightshirt and toting a revolver, Powell took aim at the same kind of SUV that snapped a photo of his car speeding. The automated camera was rolling video as Powell stepped up and let fly five rounds into the windshield.

While most folks agreed he’d gone too far, more than a few understood his frustration with the unpopular program. The City Council stopped the program after the contract with Redflex ended in 2013. The traffic-enforcement company was in hot water for a bribery scheme to win business with the city of Chicago, a crime for which the ex-Redflex CEO served prison time.

Wednesday night, the City Council voted to find a new vendor and bring the program back.

In a 5-4 vote, with Mayor Javier Gonzales and Councilors Joe Maestas, Renee Villarreal and Chris Rivera dissenting, the council agreed to find a new company to start the program again.

The ordinance says the speed SUVs will start issuing tickets at 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit under normal conditions and at six miles per hour over the limit in school and construction zones.

A first violation will ordinarily cost the owner of a speeding vehicle $50. A second time within two years doubles that ticket. For special zones, that cost rises to $100 and then $150. Several councilors feared the speed vans would unfairly impact low-income drivers, though the council had already amended the measure to let people work community service at the prevailing living wage rate—$11.06 right now—instead of paying a fine.

District 2 Councilor Mike Harris, one of the resolution’s four sponsors, said the fines are substantially less than the $116 ticket a police officer would write during a traffic stop for driving 11 mph over the limit.

“So really this is a discounted rate,” Harris argued. “That may strike people as odd, but that is, in fact, what’s happening.”

SFPD Chief Patrick Gallagher added that the ticket cost the same whether drivers were 11 mph over or blowing past the SUV at 30 mph beyond the limit.

Councilor Peter Ives, also a sponsor, said the bill wasn’t targeting low-income Santa Feans.

“We’re actually targeting speeders,” Ives reminded his colleagues. “Not just any speeders, but to get a ticket with one of the vans, you have to be doing in excess of 10 miles over the limit.”

“There’s a big sign prior to getting to the speed van that says ‘Speed Van Ahead.’ It’s not a gotcha program. It’s a pretty lenient program," added Councilor Signe Lindell.

Gallagher told councilors the department’s DWI forfeiture officer will review each potential violation before it gets mailed out as a ticket. Gallagher said the automated-enforcement SUVs will free up officers for other patrols, including on state highways around Santa Fe where unmanned enforcement vehicles are banned by law—including Cerrillos Road, St. Francis Drive, St. Michael’s Drive and Highway 599.

Councilors amended the ordinance to delete provisions that would have allowed the city to seize vehicles for 90 days if owners didn’t pay fines on time. They also got rid of a section that would have allowed police to seize a vehicle if an officer discovered unpaid fines during a traffic stop. Language that referred to booting vehicles got the axe, as did part of the law that would have allowed for civil forfeiture.

Eleven people stood up to oppose the measure, including Rick Martinez, who told councilors he’d seen empty police cars work just as effectively as speed-enforcement SUVs.

“You can put a dummy in a cop car and you don’t have to pay nobody nothing,” Martinez said to laughter from both councilors and the audience.

Once the city selects a company to provide the equipment for the program, it expects to spend $313,000 on the program during its first year; the city expects to earn about $400,000. Santa Fe and the state will split what’s left over after administrative costs. The measure passed Wednesday directs the city’s share of the money to the public safety departments.

Sponsors agreed to craft the new contract to force the winning company—and police—to use traffic data to decide where to put the SUVs and to more closely track the perceived impact on both speed and traffic crashes. The City Council will also review the contract more frequently to make sure the program is having the impact they expect.

Scott Powell appears to have avoided the radar of both speed SUVs and the criminal justice system at large since his 2013 conviction.

Santa Fean Buddy Rosacker recalled the incident to the council Wednesday night and gave them a hint of what to expect when he drives past. Rosacker bears a slight resemblance to Powell—maybe more if he’s wearing a nightshirt—and his granddaughter asked him a pointed question as pictures of Powell’s revenge hit the news: “Was that you in the paper shooting the speed van?”

“No, hita,” Rosacker answered, “I just throw ‘em fingers.”

 

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