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City considers new deal to revive speed SUV program

By Chris Quintana, The Santa Fe New Mexican
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 24--The city of Santa Fe is moving closer to a deal that would bring speed SUVs back to its streets this fall.

A new contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. was approved by the City Council'sPublic Safety Committee in May, and the Finance Committee is set to consider the deal in early September. The committee had planned to review the proposal last week but chose to hold off so the police department could have more time to prepare information.

The plan to revive the mobile speed enforcement system is likely to draw criticism from the community and is already getting mixed reviews from city councilors. The speed SUV program originally was sold to the city as a public safety measure, but there is little hard evidence to show it has made the roads safer.

City Councilor Ron Trujillo , a member of the Finance Committee who spearheaded the initiative to bring the speed SUVS to the city, said Wednesday that he still supports the measure and believes it is slowing traffic on city streets. Councilor Joseph Maestas said he isn't convinced the SUVs are effective deterrents, while Councilor Carmichael Dominguez isn't so sure. But Dominguez is concerned about the number of complaints from the community that he receives, especially those involving the appeals process for speeding tickets issued through the Reflex system.

And Redflex itself, an Arizona-based company that claims to serve 250 cities in the U.S. and Canada, has been embroiled in controversy nationwide. Earlier this month, a former CEO and the company's customer liaison with the city of Chicago were indicted on federal corruption charges, along with the Chicago official who managed the city's red-light program.

In its proposal to Santa Fe officials, the company acknowledges a former vice president had "acted inappropriately" and was fired, along with other employees. But Redflex denied claims that employees nationwide, including some in New Mexico, were bribing government officials.

Both Maestas and Trujillo said they don't believe federal corruption charges against Redflex should prevent the city from signing a new contract with the company.

The city had sought a new contract for operation of its speed SUV program, after allowing its previous contract with Redflex to lapse in January. When the city issued a request for proposals, however, the only bid was submitted by Redflex. Under its proposed four-year deal, Redflex would provide the equipment, software and training for the speed-enforcement program at no extra cost to the city.

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Speeding tickets issued through the program are $100, and the fee rises to $125 if it's not paid in 30 days.

The fines are paid directly to Redflex. Under the proposed contract, the company would get $41.50 each for the first 150 tickets issued in a month and then $37 per citation for the next 99 tickets. The company takes $32 for each ticket after that threshold has been reached.

The city and the state split the rest of the revenue.

During the time the speed SUVs were operating in Santa Fe -- from 2009 to January 2014 -- the program brought in more than $350,000 to city coffers, some of which was spent on new vehicles for the police department.

The New Mexican reported in January that the SUVs generated 8,850 citations in 2012 and 6,919 citations in 2013.

And although the program's success at slowing drivers is hard to track, one report does show a decline in crashes in the city from 2,709 in 2008 to 2,200 in 2011, two years after the speed SUVs were introduced.

Trujillo said he believes the program has led drivers to slow down on wide thoroughfares such as Zia Road.

During the school year, two of the city's three speed SUVs were parked in school zones in the morning and afternoon, to slow traffic while students were arriving at school and leaving.

"It's very good for the city," Trujillo said. "To me, it's curbed speeding in the community. We cannot have police presence everywhere."

City Councilor Signe Lindell said she was initially opposed to the program in 2009 because of its "Big Brother" feel.

But Lindell, who got nabbed by one of the speed SUVs, said she walks the same residential road twice daily, and on the days when the SUVs were parked nearby, she noted motorists driving slower.

"I was really opposed to them," she said. "But I do think they serve a purpose for safety."

Maestas argued that an officer issuing traffic tickets is a stronger deterrent to speeders than an SUV, but he admitted, "I don't have a viable alternative."

Dominguez said he feels the community has mixed feelings about the program. "I think we need to get answers," he said. "And I welcome the public debate."

Under RedFlex's contract with the city, 75 tickets must be issued for every 100 photos of speeding cars the SUVs generate.

A police officer reviews each of the images and then decides if a fine is warranted. According to the department, the tickets are citations that don't affect a person's driving record or insurance.

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Speed SUVs are not allowed on state roads, which includes major thoroughfares in Santa Fe, such as St. Francis Drive, St. Michael's Drive and Cerrillos Road.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CQuintanaSF.

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(c)2014 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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