Red light cameras raising red flags in Bremerton
|By Josh Farley, Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The cameras were hailed as a way to prevent collisions at the city's busiest intersections when they were introduced in 2008. But crash data don't provide solid proof they've done that.
Ticket revenue is falling every year, prompting concern the cameras might eventually cost the city more money than they generate.
The company that runs the program,
Support at the top of the city for the program is mixed -- at best.
"I'm willing to pull the cameras when they become nonproductive for us," she said. "The program can't cost us more than we're bringing in."
The mayor said she's willing to review the red light camera program later this year as part of the city's 2015 budget process.
"More and more in society, we are policing with technology," he said. "It's a part of life."
Like many photo enforcement programs around the country and the state,
But the amount collected dwindled to
Factoring in the
The city's contract includes a clause that it won't be on the hook financially if the cameras fail to yield the amount it has agreed to pay Redflex. But the city has its own costs it has to recoup -- about
This year, revenues to the city are projected at less than
Revenue collection also is hampered by those who simply don't pay the infractions, considered by the city as tantamount to a parking ticket. The city collected about 73 percent of the fines levied in 2013. A new ticketing system will prevent drivers from renewing their car tabs if the vehicle has three unpaid red light tickets in a year, but absent of that, the city can't force someone to pay.
State law prohibits cameras from taking a picture of the driver. It's an open secret among those contesting the tickets that they simply have to claim they weren't driving to get out of the citation.
"If you say you weren't driving, those tickets get dumped,"
Plus, the form mailed to cited motorists was recently amended to include a box they can check to claim the car was under the "care, custody or control" of another person at the time of the infraction -- another wrinkle that will probably lead to further decline in revenue collection.
ARE THEY WORKING?
Supporters of the program say the decrease in citations shows the cameras are actually working.
The number of red light camera citations issued in
"To have a 50 percent drop from their high is a sign of a change in driver behavior," said Lt.
But there might be more than a change in behavior at play.
In late 2012, the city revamped three intersections on
The biggest change was transforming the southbound right-hand turn off
The camera watching southbound
Data show the camera at southbound Warren and 16th nabbed 3,332 violators in its first year -- the highest for any camera. But after the right turn became a yield, tickets there fell to 753 in 2013.
Docter wonders if the right-hand turns were what proponents of the system had in mind when cameras came to
"Do I think the red light cameras work? Yes, I think people learn and they serve their purpose," Docter said. "But the more fundamental question is, 'What are you trying to stop?'"
That answer, from red light camera vendors and the city officials who supported their implantation, was collisions.
But that hasn't happened in
There were 58 collisions reported at the five intersections in 2006 and 44 in 2007. Crashes fell to 37 in 2008 and 34 in 2009.
But they've risen and fallen in no predictable pattern over the past four years.
Fisher calls that data inconclusive but argues the numbers don't show how many crashes were prevented by the cameras.
"Each time you reduce a red light runner, you're taking a possible collision out of play," he said.
Others say freeing up officers to pursue other crimes is a benefit that can't be discounted. Catching red light runners is a tall order for a cop, said Officer
"If you're behind them, you've got to run the red light to try and catch them," he said.
Complicating city officials' analysis is that Redflex -- an Australian company whose U.S. operations are based in
In 2012, stories in the
Federal charges were officially leveled last week against a former
While Rosenberg's signature appears on
City records and interviews with staff handling the Redflex contract here indicate a cordial relationship. Redflex said its "very proud" of its seven-year partnership with the city. The company once asked Fisher to fly to
City emails show Fisher told company officials they would have to pay his way. He informed police department administration and the city's legal department of the request.
Lent said she was unaware of the trip.
The company lodged Fisher in the Ritz Carlton for two days in
Fisher, who was never called to testify, was briefed to say that the issue wouldn't have affected
"We're not putting our heads in the sand," she said.
FUTURE OF CAMERAS
Photo enforcement in America has enjoyed a meteoric rise since it was introduced in
But use of other systems, including school zone and school bus stopping arm cameras, continues to grow, according to
The reasons for the drop-off of red light camera systems vary. Sometimes it is community outcry. In
"They did catch a lot of violators," Beard said, but they didn't reduce crashes. "In fact, I think we had three more collisions."
"I'm not pro- or anti- photo enforcement," he said. "I view it as a policy decision by our elected officials."
Members of the
If the system actually were to cost the city more money than it brings in, "that really opens up the debate for me," Councilman
Redflex said it would work with the city to address concerns if the contract came up for discussion. But a spokeswoman did not say whether the terms could be renegotiated.
"If a Redflex customer wishes to discontinue its agreement, we work with the customer to address its concerns consistent with the terms of the contract with the customer," Redflex spokesman
Any changes "would have to be lucrative" for the city, Lent said.
Still, if the revenue falls further, the cameras might come out.
"We aren't going to pay for something that's not at least revenue neutral," Lent said.
Join the conversation on red light cameras
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