Red-light cameras still months away

The cameras will be installed at four to six intersections in Columbia.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 | 8:04 p.m. CDT; updated 3:10 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — Red-light camera technology will be installed at four to six intersections in Columbia as soon as the beginning of next year.

City officials will work with LaserCraft Inc. of Norcross, Ga., to determine which intersections are most in need of the extra enforcement tool. The City Council approved a contract with LaserCraft, which will install and operate the cameras, on a 5-2 vote at its regular meeting, which extended into the early morning hours Tuesday.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser voted against the contract, saying that higher fines for people who run red lights would be more effective.

Running a red light results in a fine of $92.50 and an additional $22.50 in court fees. Nauser noted that the city fines people more than that for smoking in bars.

Skala agreed with Nauser. “The approach to this is to increase the fines,” he said.

Nauser predicted that having only 16 cameras at four to six intersections won’t create the desired effect on red-light violators. If safety is the issue, shesaid, a potential solution would be to have police officers routinely monitoring intersections and ticketing violators. Mayor Darwin Hindman said that would be inefficient.

“The red-light camera system is far superior to having a patrol officer doing the same work,” Hindman said, adding that higher fines would still demand more police presence.

Only one person testified when the council asked for public comment. John Schultz, who lives on West Colchester Road just north of Columbia, voiced his concern about the “Big Brother” effect. The video and still images taken at the intersections will compromise the privacy of those in the vehicle at the expense of the city government, he said.

The discussion on approving the city’s contract with LaserCraft began just before 1 a.m. Tuesday , leaving only a few members present from a once-packed audience. Schultz said he spoke in the interest of the public, not his own.

“I don’t feel that it has been communicated well within the community,” he said.

LaserCraft initially asked for a monthly payment of $67,120 for its services. The approved agreement now states that LaserCraft will receive $28.50 from each citation collected.

“I believe the city has done a great job in the negotiation of the contract,” Hindman said.

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John Schultz August 23, 2007 | 3:16 p.m.

To clarify my position, I am not worried about the privacy implications since the cameras are monitoring a public roadway, but there are those in the community who are. In my comments to the city council, I tried to address some ways that they could make the cameras less Orwellian to some those. Those included:

1. I asked that timeliness of the ticket delivered to the owner of the violating vehicle be as quick as possible. I don't know how practical that will be since Lasercraft first has to review the ticket, then send it to someone at the police department to confirm a violation, and then it goes to the city prosecutor. Prompt delivery of the ticket would allow the alleged violator to mount a defense in those cases where they were not the driver, there was some extenuating circumstance, etc.
2. The Lasercraft system has an ability to monitor the cameras in live streaming mode. Lasercraft suggests tight control on that particular access. I asked if the CPD would have any policies and procedures to determine who can view those live feeds to ensure that they are available when needed (i.e. looking for a getaway car from a robbery) as opposed to someone just watching the cameras for entertainment or curiousity's sake. I think more openness and transparency in the process may make people more accepting of the system.
3. I asked if current city ordinance would allow the use of the speeding functionality that is presumably in the cameras (unclear if the city has to purchase that option or if all Lasercraft systems have that ability), the answer is no.
4. The material from Lasercraft mentioned they would work with city staff to solve any engineering problems that could reduce red light running at the selected intersections. I asked that that any changes be publicized so people would know this is not just a revenue collection system, but is truly about safety.

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