|| Archive | Sports | Classifieds | Features | Crime Patrol | SM Confidential|
||| Calendar | Columns | Letters to the Editor|
| Council Green Lights
Red Light Enforcement
By Teresa Rochester
Drivers inclined to speed through red lights may soon find themselves caught on film and fined $271 for breaking the law.
In a 6 to 1 vote, the City Council Tuesday night approved in concept a controversial plan to install automated red light cameras, which snap pictures of cars running red lights. The program calls for cameras at three intersections for a three-year test run and is part of an overall effort to beef up traffic enforcement and safety throughout city.
"As we got into the nuts and bolts of preparing this program we realized it was very multifaceted," Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts told the council.
Butts said the program - which would be evaluated every six months - calls for one officer assigned to review the photos, make court appearances and serve as a liaison to the firm providing the automated service. A public awareness campaign also would be organized before enforcement begins.
In Santa Monica, red light violations accounted for 9 percent of all traffic violations written in 1997 and 8 percent of those written in 1998, according to a staff report.
Council members who supported the program said it is a cost-effective way to help save lives, in a city where traffic volume has increased two percent a year since 1987. But some council members, including Councilman Michael Feinstein, who cast the lone dissenting vote, worried that the cameras would have "Big Brother" implications.
"In terms of enforcement there needs to be consequences," Mayor Pro Tem Pam O'Connor said. "This is a way to do that I think it is critical that we be clear about the limitations of this data."
"I'm concerned about the invasion of privacy," said Councilman Richard Bloom.
Feinstein said he supports traffic and pedestrian safety but disagreed with the use of cameras. The Green Party member pointed out that in nearby Beverly Hills, people have removed their front license plates, which are necessary to issue a citation. He added that determining a red light offense often needs police officer discretion at the scene.
"The fundamental issue for me is the compromising of civil liberties here," Feinstein said. "Just because something is a common good doesn't mean we want to give up our individual civil liberties. The power of technology here increases that on many, many, many levels."
Feinstein suggested putting up signs stating that those running red lights are subject to a $271 fine as an alternative to the cameras. Fellow Green Party member Councilman Kevin McKeown, however, said he didn't buy the argument that the cameras infringed on civil liberties. He then read the names of four people killed on June 7, 1997, when a car that ran a red light hit their vehicle.
"I believe the technology is civil liberties-neutral, but public safety-positive," McKeown said. "These won't be indiscriminate surveillance cameras I'm taking back the power to set policy from technology."
At least one of the city's neighborhood groups supported the program, which has been instituted in eleven cities, including Culver City, El Cajon, Irvine, Los Angeles, Oxnard, Poway, San Francisco, Santa Rosa and West Hollywood.
"We would like to see it," said David Cole, president of Mid City Neighbors. "The Big Brother aspect weighed with the act of encouraging people to stop when they are already supposed to outweighed that aspect."
Responding to privacy concerns, Butts noted that in a camera citation issued to his daughter, only the driver is visible and the rest of the car's interior is blocked out.
Butts said that while the cities that have implemented the program have reported a decrease in red light violations, "44 percent of violators caught by the camera are not prosecuted.
"In those instances when a driver can't be identified they're not prosecuted," Butts said.
With the approval of the plan, city staff can now begin seeking bids for an automated red light enforcement vendor. The cost of the program will be recovered through the fines paid by red-light violators and the city will receive 89 percent of the fines for all traffic violations and a percentage of the fines paid by those who attend traffic school, according to the staff report.
The council also approved the addition of a new traffic officer to bolster the department's traffic team, which will consist of 10 officers, one sergeant and one traffic lieutenant by June 2000. The department also will purchase additional motorcycles and related equipment.
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.