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LAPD defends use of red-light traffic cameras

Los Angeles police officials on Tuesday defended the use of automated cameras at intersections to catch drivers running red lights and questioned why there is little consequence for violators who ignore the citations.

In a briefing to the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said the red-light cameras are effective tools against accidents. The use of the cameras, installed at 32 intersections in 2006, came under fire in September, when city Controller Wendy Greuel found that the revenue the city takes in from the fines is less than the cost of maintaining the cameras. Greuel also questioned whether the cameras had reduced accidents.

The cameras are automatically triggered when a driver runs a red light. The photographs of the vehicle’s license plate and driver are then reviewed by LAPD officers, who decide whether to mail the registered owner a citation that carries a fine of about $475.

After the report came out, the City Council instructed the department to evaluate the cameras’ usefulness and report back “on possible recommendations to terminate this program.”

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Moore told the commission that since the cameras were installed, there has been a 63% reduction in red-light-related traffic accidents at those intersections. There have been no fatal accidents related to red lights since the cameras went in, compared with five deadly crashes in the three years before, Moore added. And the number of citations issued for red-light violations has climbed dramatically, from 14,000 to 59,000 annually, the LAPD review concluded.

Moore did not dispute Greuel’s finding that the cameras cost more to maintain than they generate in ticket revenue. He placed blame for this on the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, saying the court does not aggressively pursue violators.

The court doesn’t alert the Department of Motor Vehicles when someone fails to respond to a photo red-light citation by the given deadline. If court officials did so, as many other counties do, the DMV could place a hold on the vehicle owner’s license. Instead, the court mails notices to the vehicle owner stating that an additional $300 fine will be added if the matter is not resolved within 10 days. If no response is received, the court forwards the vehicle owner’s name to a collection agency.

Moore says that response is too weak. “There’s absolutely no consequence” for someone who ignores the collection agency, he said. The city would receive between $7 million and $11 million if the fines were collected, Moore estimates.

Mary Hearn, acting director of public information for the court system, defended the court’s decision not to have the DMV put holds on drivers’ licenses, saying the policy “complies with the law” and that it is an “issue of fairness,” because the registered owner of a vehicle may not be the one running the red light.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the LAPD’s report on the cameras and will now send it to the council. The department is reviewing proposals from companies competing for the contract to operate the cameras for the city for the next several years. If it chooses to do so, the council can still scrap the camera program, Moore said.

joel.rubin@latimes.com


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