Chief: Red-light cameras OK if used properly

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ticketing speeders and drivers who run red lights with information from traffic cameras is a "good idea if it's used appropriately," according to Lewisburg's police chief.

"It's inappropriate for any government to look at it as a money making system," Police Chief Chuck Forbis said of a project proposed last month to Lewisburg's City Council by a Phoenix, Ariz.-based business.

Several cameras in a well-placed cabinet at selected intersections here could capture images of cars and their license plates when they're clocked as going too fast, or if they're going across an intersection when the light is red.

Some towns are perceived as "speed traps" where police issue speeding tickets "solely to add funds to their coffers," the chief said. "Certainly, that's the wrong reason.

"It's a good tool to gain compliance to reduce crashes and, ultimately, injuries and everything that goes with that like medical costs," Forbis said.

Redflex Traffic Systems' sales and marketing chiefs explained the Phoenix, Ariz.-based business' system to Lewisburg's Council last week. The idea is substantially the same as what's been operating in Murfreesboro for several months. Clarksville recently signed up for such a program.

In Spring Hill, city leaders are reportedly considering a sales pitch from Traffipax, a Maryland-based business. It would also send notices to vehicle owners when their cars or trucks are seen speeding and/or running red lights. But according to the daily paper in Nashville, if there's no response to three notices on one alleged offense, then the city is notified and it's up to that government to decide whether a citation is to be issued.

That and another factor weren't discussed during the Redflex sales pitch here.

Spring Hill City Attorney Tim Underwood advises that if a contract is to be struck with Traffipax, then competitive bids should be obtained, according to the other newspaper. Spring Hill Police Chief John Smith introduced the idea to his town.

Forbis saw the Redflex presentation.

"One of the people of that corporation contacted me at a Chiefs Association meeting," Lewisburg's police chief said.

Forbis was told Redflex had contacted other leaders in Lewisburg, he said.

"We do" have places in Lewisburg where cameras and automated radar detectors could be used, Forbis said.

"But do we have enough places to make it worthwhile for a company? That's the bigger question," the chief said, noting there would be "no up front cost to the city" for the infrastructure; cameras, radar guns, bullet-proof cabinets, flash attachments, poles, computer connections, other hardware and related software.

Apparently so, according to a Redflex salesman who said the company would also want to issue notices to owners of vehicles monitored as speeding.

"They can do both at the same intersection," Forbis said.

Cabinets with the traffic monitoring devices might be well placed along Ellington Parkway at the major intersections," Forbis said.

Long traffic queues occur at an Ellington Parkway traffic light near the Industrial Park, the chief said. Another place is at the light near the KFC restaurant. The parkway's intersection with Rock Crusher Road to the north and North Fifth Avenue on the south side of the parkway is another problematic location.

Nashville Highway and Ellington Parkway is also an intersection whee traffic cameras might be placed, he said.

Substantiating that view were remarks from members of the City Council who met with Craig Primiani, the eastern regional sales director at Redflex's office in Milton, Mass., and Peter Fogarassy, a marketing director with Redflex.

The intersections with the KFC and a Walgreens were mentioned.

"Right now, we're not at yes, or no," Councilwoman Quinn Brandon said during the Council meeting on Redflex last week.

Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. asked if any town had started such a program and then decided to "pull out."

Fogarassy replied that withdrawal is usually for political reasons.

Lewisburg's City Council meets at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.