Red light cameras watched Colorado Springs' intersections for less than a year before then-Mayor Steve Bach pulled the plug on the program. But with recent changes to the technology, police say the devices might deserve another shot.
Mayor John Suthers recently gave Police Chief Pete Carey the green light to see if reintroducing the cameras might help the department curb traffic violations and address staffing shortages at the same time.
"We're looking at the different technologies that are out there," police Lt. Howard Black said. "The biggest piece of change is that there's no longer that big flash that occurs if you hit that intersection and you're in violation. That's all gone."
Newer cameras use lasers instead of lights, he said. This and other changes would allow police to program the cameras to focus on legitimate violations rather than nitpicking minor mishaps.
"It wouldn't just be a car moving up too close to the cross line of the intersection," he said. "These would be individuals actually running through those red lights."
While Suthers might be able to order new cameras, the department is considering 10 intersections, It won't happen without City Council support though, spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said.
Council President Richard Skorman, along with council members Bill Murray, Yolanda Avila and Tom Strand, say they support the move. Councilmen Don Knight and David Geislinger say they are undecided but possibly leaning in support. Councilman Andy Pico said he is "not favorably inclined towards that but not in adamant opposition."
"I'd like to see what they come up with," Pico said. "That is just one option."
Councilman Merv Bennett and Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler could not be reached for comment.
Which intersections might benefit the most from cameras is unclear, Black said, but preliminary reports show that many of the crossings with the highest crash rates sit along Interstate 25.
Murray said he supports installing the cameras not only at 10 intersections, but also throughout the city. They calm traffic, and the programmed cameras would remove any ambiguity from the citations generated, Murray said.
"There would be no question as to whether you did or did not run that red light," he said.
Police have issued fewer tickets to red-light runners in recent years, though specific data were not immediately available, Black said. The decrease is likely due to the department's staffing shortage rather than reduced traffic violations. New cameras would keep an eye on intersections, freeing officers now assigned to traffic duties, he said.
The city's original cameras produced mixed results. Cameras were installed at Bijou Street and Nevada Avenue; Circle Drive and Platte Avenue; Murray Road and Platte; and Oro Blanco Drive and Barnes Road in November 2010. They were removed in 2011. They did little to reduce crashes and weren't worth the two full-time officers and half-time sergeant assigned to monitor them, Carey said at the time.
The public's distaste for the cameras played a part in their removal, Carey said.
In the 11 months before the cameras were installed, five crashes occurred at the four intersections. In the 11 months after they were installed, the same intersections saw eight crashes. Three of the four crossings saw sharp drops in violations. Only the intersection of Nevada Avenue and Bijou Street registered increased violations while the cameras were up.
City Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager did not respond to multiple messages seeking more information on red light cameras and crash data.
Skorman said he believes the camera had an overall positive impact, and he supports the move to bring them back. Much of the public outcry stemmed from fears of a "Big Brother" invasion of privacy, he said.
"There are cameras everywhere now," Skorman said.
"People that floor it when the lights are red" should be ticketed, he later added.
Each ticket carries a fine, and the city netted $175,731 over those 11 months.
Despite that six-figure sum and any concern from the public, Black said, revenue isn't the focus of the proposed new program.
"We're not going to get caught up in fundraising. This is about safety. Our staffing is an issue, and this is just a force multiplier," he said. "It's about keeping our public safe. It's about people being killed in intersections, being hurt, that's what our focus is."
Knight said new cameras would generate revenue, and the city should get it, not a camera company or any other organization.
But whatever revenue does materialize won't be enough to pay for the 10 additional officers Carey needs soon, let alone the 100 officers he'd like to add in the next decade, Knight said.
When police will finish the research or when a decision on the cameras might be made isn't known, Black said.