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Photo Enforcement

In a hurry to slow fatalities

Loop 101 digital plan a first on freeways
Holly Johnson
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 21, 2004
SCOTTSDALE – A proposal to curb speeding on a deadly corridor of Loop 101 could make Scottsdale the first city in the nation to digitally patrol freeways.If plans to install photo-enforcement technology are approved by the governor’s office and state Department of Transportation, motorists could see the pole-mounted cameras as early as January or February.It’s a proposal met with consternation and praise. Police officials have championed the idea, saying it will reduce the number of deadly collisions and high-speed traffic. But labor unions and some officers oppose the digital cops and say a better solution is to increase the number of patrols dedicated to traffic regulation.

“The biggest stumbling block is that this is something that’s never been done before in the U.S. on a freeway,” said Bruce Kalin, a contract administrator for the Scottsdale Police. “Anytime you’re going to be first at something, you’re bound to run into resistance.”

Scottsdale, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the state Department of Public Safety propose adding six fixed-detection cameras – three in each direction of travel – on the 6-mile stretch of Loop 101 between the Pima Road-90th Street exit and Scottsdale Road. The cost for installation and maintenance would be about $194,400 annually.

Successes in past

Scottsdale hopes the Loop 101 cameras will mirror the success it has seen on the city’s streets.

It has been three weeks since the city’s first mid-block, multidirectional photo-enforcement system began nabbing drivers on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.

Before the system began issuing citations on Aug. 23, it detected an average of 36 speeding drivers per hour. One week later, that number dropped to 16. By Sept. 13, 11 drivers were snagged. Cameras on eastbound Shea Boulevard at 90th Street, which became operational on Aug. 30, detected 192 speeding and 96 red-light violations during its first 14 days.

For Kalin, that means the system is working. Drivers are slowing and speeding violations are on the decline.

Cops or cameras?

Despite that success, photo enforcement has its critics.

“We believe traffic officers are the most effective deterrent against most types of unsafe driving, including speeding,” President Jim McDowell wrote in a message to readers in the September/October issue of Highroads, a magazine for AAA customers in Arizona.

“Substituting mechanical cops for real ones might be an efficient way to snag speeders, but it robs us of the multiple benefits patrol officers bring to the scene.”

Opponents liken the cameras to a digital Big Brother. The Police Officers of Scottsdale Association prefers a permanent squad tasked specifically with traffic enforcement.

“It was a patrol cop on a routine traffic stop that caught Timothy McVeigh, and it was a patrol cop making a routine traffic stop that caught Ted Bundy,” said Jim Hill, president of the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association.

“We would rather see money spent on hiring living, breathing, thinking patrol cops than on cameras.”

Hill argues that cameras make an impact on driver behavior only at specific locations.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Frank Valenzuela refutes labor unions’ claims that support for photo enforcement would reduce funding and support for additional, much-needed police positions.

He says other agencies nationwide have successfully implemented the system without a reduction in patrol officers or state funding.

“The bottom line is if we had enough officers to patrol all the highways here in Arizona, that high visibility would reduce the amount of people violating the law,” Valenzuela said.

But increasing patrols means paying more in officer salaries, overtime and equipment costs – fees subsidized by taxpayer money. Scottsdale police occasionally patrol Loop 101 at the request of backlogged Department of Public Safety officers.

“Scottsdale has received a number of complaints from constituents about the 101,” he said. “They’ve responded by providing motor officers in unmarked and marked units to patrol when they have time to do so. It’s been a tremendous help to us because of our own limited resources.

“During rush hour, our officers spend most of their time running from one accident to another. There’s just no time for them to sit down with a radar gun (and patrol).”

Just raising revenue?

Sgt. Bill Whalen, chairman of the Arizona State Troopers Labor Council, believes photo enforcement is a tool to line city coffers.

He thinks minimum staffing levels for highway patrol officers should be met first.

“By maintaining appropriate staffing levels, troopers can not only reduce speed but also meet the critical need to detect and remove impaired, drunk drivers from the highways,” Whalen, a 23-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement.

But Kalin said photo enforcement “basically pays for itself.” Its expenses are offset by fine revenue.

And Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell said the debate shouldn’t be about whether cops or cameras make for better speed enforcement.

“The bottom line is, it’s not an either/or conversation in Scottsdale. It’s an ‘and’ discussion,” he said. “We feel we need to do a variety of different enforcement efforts.”

Scottsdale is adding a second traffic squad to its arsenal.

The public-safety tax increase created a motorcycle squad of seven officers and a supervising sergeant dedicated to regulating traffic. First-year costs for the eight positions will total $778,553, according to Kalin.

The potential revenue from that squad? It is projected at $109,685.

“Using one method over the other exclusively isn’t effective,” Kalin said.

“A combination of photo and human enforcement provides the most cost-effective combination of currently available enforcement options.”

Reach the reporter at holly.johnson@scottsdale republic.com or (602) 444-6849.

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