City’s expensive and unenforceable red-light camera program to end in June
By Justin Chapman 12/15/2011
Citing the lack of legal consequences resulting from red-light camera tickets and the rising costs associated with running the program, the chair of the Pasadena City Council’s Public Safety Committee told the Weekly on Monday that the city will discontinue using the cameras in June.
At the Dec. 5 committee meeting, Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez and Transportation Department staff jointly recommended the city allow its contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Systems (ATS) — the company that runs and operates the city’s Automated Red Light Cameras — to expire on June 30. ATS will be responsible for removing the cameras from intersections at Foothill and San Gabriel boulevards, Lake Avenue and Union Street and Union Street and Marengo Avenue. The cameras were installed in 2003 and 2005.
The cameras take pictures of supposed traffic infractions, along with the driver and the vehicle’s license plate. However, the tickets are unenforceable, because drivers do not sign a promise to appear in court. Without the signature, the tickets cannot go to warrant and instead are sent to GC Services, an LA County collection agency.
“The [Department of Transportation] staff does not intend to renew the contract,” said Public Safety Chair Steve Madison, a private attorney and former federal prosecutor. “I don’t believe it will come before the City Council. It will die a natural death. I am of two minds about it: On the one hand, I like the deterrent ability that it has. On the other hand, there is a Big Brother aspect I don’t like.
From a pragmatic standpoint, it is riddled with problems. Nothing happens if you ignore it; it does not go on your DMV record, no one comes looking for you and the police have to look at each picture to make sure that they are sending the ticket to the right person.”
Committee members Margaret McAustin, Gene Masuda and Jacque Robinson did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The camera program will be replaced by stronger police enforcement at those intersections.
“More and more people are figuring out that they will not be punished if they refuse to pay the violation fine, let alone have to show up in court at all,” said Pasadena Police Officer Brian Bozarth, who runs the camera program and will return to field work after the program is dismantled. “Because the driver who was caught by a camera running a red light did not sign anything promising to appear in court, we have no legal recourse to issue a warrant for their arrest. The citation then gets handed over to a collection agency, but even then after they mail a couple letters and make a couple annoying phone calls, they cannot force the violator to pay the fine.”
Bozarth said that ignoring the initial ticket — which costs about $500 — and the collection agency will not affect the violator’s credit rating or DMV record.
The amount of time Bozarth had to spend in court addressing contested tickets was one determining reason for ending the program, according to Department of Transportation Director Fred Dock.
“The use of police resources is the biggest factor,” Dock told the Weekly. “The time commitments for sworn personnel have grown exponentially. The citations issued have diminished, and there has been a large uptick in the amount of challenges due to the large amount of information about fighting the tickets. We now have an officer that is spending more time answering challenges to the tickets and is spending less time in the field. The recommendation is to get the police personnel back in the field instead of in court.”
The city’s contract with ATS was slated to expire June 30, 2011, but the City Council voted to extend the contract one more year so staff could prepare a thorough report detailing its pros and cons.
“I am very supportive of staff’s recommendation to not renew
the red-light program contract,”
said Sanchez, who added that he thinks the camera enforcement
There are also other problems with the system, according to a joint staff report issued by the Police Department and the DOT that cited a loss of revenue due to rising costs connected to the program.
The city pays ATS $274,100 each year, and although the city made $344,013 in fiscal year 2010-11, that income has rapidly decreased while electricity and personnel costs for both the Police and Transportation departments run at least $74,000, creating an annual deficit of at least $4,487 that comes directly out of the city’s General Fund.
“There doesn’t seem to be any way to enforce it,” said Councilman Terry Tornek. “It is too bad, but as I recall [the cameras] were reasonably effective at eliminating broadside collisions. Presumably, they have some other techniques. I still think that if people see the camera, they pay attention to it.”
But despite Tornek’s assertion, the report stated it could not be determined if the cameras served as a deterrent, as opposed to other traffic safety measures established at the intersections when the cameras were installed. At that time, city staff also set the yellow light timing at 0.3 to 0.4 seconds above the required minimum, making it impossible to attribute the decline of broadside collisions to the presence of either the cameras or the lengthened yellow light times.
In the meantime, according to the staff report, the city “has many existing safety programs, including but not limited to selective traffic enforcement, ongoing signal synchronization to provide more regular traffic flow, implementation of longer yellows and ‘all-red’ clearance intervals that will maintain our level of continuing efforts to improve traffic safety throughout the city.”
While the Police and Transportation departments recognize that the red-light camera program is an important tool, the city has many more safety initiatives designed to continue and maintain improvement of traffic safety at signaled intersections. The city also plans to update and extend the yellow light timing at all signaled intersections throughout the next 18 to 24 months.