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Home / Articles / News / Opinion /  Zane's World
Redflex protest
In Lafayette, La., protesters want less cameras and more police. They’ve taken to agitating Redflex mobile-camera units until the operators are so frustrated they pick up and move.

Zane's World

Red Light, Green Money

February 3, 2009, 12:00 am

In most of the cities where automatic cameras have been adopted to enforce speeding and red-light violations, it has been considered poor form to gloat over the additional cash in the coffers.

The public will accept such Big Brotherly eyes in the sky on the basis of safety, but tends to resist the more-real motive of revenue.

In Santa Fe, however, a rare bout of blunt honesty has had the police department openly salivating about the $1.1 million annual ka-ching! it hopes to collect, while, if possible, also preventing collisions.

It’s good not to be laboring under false impressions. No doubt the police department—and the city councilors who support the red-light cameras, Ron Trujillo chief among them—is also genuinely interested in safety. After all, most traffic accidents and injuries happen at intersections.

That’s why those of us who believe police enforcement is about public welfare—rather than, say, municipal budgets—are so confused about the police’s ace enforcement of speeding, which causes comparatively few injuries, when their patrolling of intersections is ho-hum at best.

Oh, that’s right. In addition to the four red-light cameras the city plans to allow Redflex Traffic Systems to install, there will be two roving speed traps. Speed is easy money, too easy to pass up.

And, oh yeah, studies show that mid-intersection collisions go down following the installation of red-light cameras, but rear-end collisions go up by a similar amount. People are paranoid of adding that photo ticket to their Facebook pages, so they slam on the brakes at the last minute and the poor person behind them gets a close look at the windshield. It’s close to a wash, but if you calculate typical severity of injury and, get this, financial cost, it turns out to be marginally better to encourage rear-ending than mid-intersection collisions.

But is that the kind of math we want to be doing? Isn’t aiming for less-costly accidents kind of the lowest common denominator of public safety?

In Dallas, Texas, anecdotal evidence suggests that simply lengthening the duration of yellow lights may be the most effective way to improve safety at hazardous intersections. Dallas is the most successful example in the red-light camera record. Problem is that it increased the duration of yellow lights at the same time as it installed the cameras, so it’s difficult to determine the cause of decreased accidents. However, Dallas had a relatively small increase in rear-end collisions compared with other cities that installed cameras, so there’s little question of the significance of yellow-light durations.

Incidentally, it has been reported that the program in Dallas has been so successful it can no longer pay for itself—a good thing for public safety, a bad thing for a city trapped in a contract and forced to pay a minimum monthly amount per camera to the suspect company that installed them.

Of course, use of the term “suspect” isn’t meant to imply any lack of integrity or respect for the law on the part of these red-light camera providers. But let’s also be clear that Redflex, the company with which the City of Santa Fe intends to do business, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit in a US District Court of Arizona case with a rival company and also is being sued by a Paradise Valley, Ariz. man in what has the potential to become a class-action suit. Both lawsuits stem from Redflex’s use of two different illegal speed-detection systems that did not have FCC approval. Both suits essentially allege that Redflex knowingly broke the law (and possibly violated several bidding and contract practices) in an attempt to, you guessed it, maximize profits.

In a June 3, 2008 article for the New York Times, writer Jerry Garrett chased down a long history of questionable practices, faulty systems, fraudulent business practice and the complete lack of due process perpetrated by red-light camera systems. He ultimately asks, “Just how many things wrong with it does an idea have to have before it is considered discredited?”

Finally, for Santa Fe, there is the question of the city’s own ethics. This is a city that has made public stands on issues ranging from war to immigration and, more practically, has enthusiastically supported local business and keeping money in the community whenever possible. Are we now going to line the pockets of a Phoenix-based company that already has knowingly used illegal technology in the pursuit of fining the members of communities to which it was invited under the guise of “safety”?

Are we willing to do that for $1.1 million? How about for the illusion of $1.1 million? The City of Santa Fe Police Department now admits it may have overestimated potential revenue. Police Captain Anthony Robbin recently told the city’s Public Works Committee that it’s not possible to get an accurate estimate at this point.

Sounds like a sign to slow down.

 

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