A proposed measure at the Arizona Legislature seeking to banish photo radar from local streets is picking up steam.
Republican Rep. Travis Grantham of Gilbert proposed House Bill 2525 and it passed in the Arizona House by a 32-28 margin Thursday, Feb. 23 giving the idea of outlawing photo radar — a municipal tool officials there say saves lives by reducing accidents — more credence heading into the Arizona Senate.
“Myself and quite honestly many of my constituents are overly concerned with the constitutionality of photo radar in our state,” said Rep. Grantham in a Feb. 28 phone interview.
“There have been some examples of fraud and some things that have pointed to an incestuous relationship between municipality and the third-party operators. Here locally, we have heard about the issues with Redflex in Chicago. I can’t say that it hasn’t happened here and I hope we can get this done before they start to happen.”
Rep. Grantham points to a 2013 investigation into misconduct by former executives of Redflex and city of Chicago officials that lead to arrests and significant civil fines.
Redflex, an Australian-based company with a U.S. subsidiary in Phoenix, faced scrutiny on existing and pending contracts for service from several local governments across the nation due to the ongoing bribery investigation in Chicago, which was originally reported by the Chicago Tribune in 2013.
Under the terms of the settlement, Redflex will pay the city of Chicago $20 million, with $10 million payable by the end of 2017 and the balance to be paid, in various annual installments by the end of 2023, unless extended by the terms of the agreement.
Rep. Grantham acknowledges other attempts to abolish photo radar from all Arizona streets has failed — today, legislation states photos radar is forbidden on state highways — but he says this time is different.
“Obviously any attempt to maximize revenue and profit, I find that troubling,” he said. “Obviously, we have the bill that took care of it on state highways. I think that got people more comfortable it. With the recent example of fraud and some of the things that have been going on across the United States with these kinds of systems I think it has heightened everyone’s awareness.”
Both the municipalities of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale have current five-year contracts with separate vendors — Redflex Traffic Systems in Paradise Valley and American Traffic Solutions in Scottsdale — that outline stipulations surrounding equipment maintenance, retention of records and various fees paid per citation and photo site.
The Town of Paradise Valley has five fixed photo radar locations each equipped with speed detection capabilities while the city of Scottsdale has 18 locations throughout its city limits.
Devil in the details
The city of Scottsdale recently enlisted the services of Lee Engineering at a cost of $52,140 to determine the overall effectiveness of photo radar on municipal thoroughfares.
The city put out the report noting the following findings:
- At the 13 intersections with red light and speeding photo enforcement, overall crashes were reduced by 23 to 24 percent, and crashes related specifically to red-light running were reduced by 33 to 35 percent.
- For the six road segments with speed photo enforcement, overall crashes were reduced by 37 percent.
- At intersections with enforced left-turn movements, left-turn crashes were reduced by 63 percent.
- In 2007 red light and speed photo enforcement was implemented at southbound Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, resulting in a 28 percent reduction in the average number of crashes per year.
“So people are very concerned that they are going to lose revenue so they are finding ways to prove this, I get that,” Rep. Grantham said. “The data isn’t always correct. I do question studies that are bought and paid for by the municipality that has a vested interest. We all should.”
For Scottsdale and the Town of Paradise Valley photo radar is a million dollar boost to the annual General Fund, which is used for the day-to-day operations of the municipality.
In fiscal year 2015-16 the city of Scottsdale collected the revenues generated through 42,290 photo radar tickets issued in calendar year 2016 collecting $3,080,897 in revenue with paying its third-party vendor $1,585,876.55 leaving $1,495,020.45 for city coffers, records show.
During the same time in Paradise Valley, the municipality there collected revenues generated through 53,012 citations issued equating to to $2,730,694 with $868,969.70 of that money being paid to the vendor while the town retained $1,861,725.
According to Paradise Valley Municipal Court Director, Jeanette Wiesenhofer vendor expenses include Redflex fees for paid citations and process service fees.
Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert testified at the Capitol prior to a vote taking place on HB 2525.
“I believe photo enforcement has a significant impact in reducing speeding, red light running and collisions,” he said in response to a Feb. 28 phone interview question asking why he chose to testify at the Arizona Legislature.
“I don’t know that I would characterize it as testifying against. Reducing these speeds increase the safety and quality of life for our residents, and creates more free time for our officers to address other issues, including patrol in neighborhoods.”
Patrolling the streets of Paradise Valley, Chief Wingert says the effects of photo radar are evident.
“We know that when photo enforcement was first implemented in 1987 there was a dramatic reduction in collisions from the 400 reported annually during the 80s,” he said.
“Early statistics showed a 47 percent drop in accidents after the photo enforcement implementation. It is difficult to say empirically what the current effect on traffic is as so many variables have changed. Population has increased, freeways have been extended, technology in vehicles helps avoid collisions, and everyone in the Valley is aware of our focus on photo enforcement and traffic safety.”
A proven tool
Local elected leaders stand by the charge that photo radar is a proven tool that reduces speed thus keeping collisions to a minimum.
“Yes. Because the evidence that I have received and also from the police that it does cause traffic to be more careful,” said Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield in a Feb. 28 phone interview.
“It just adds that extra little bit of care and concern. I think it makes perfectly logical sense to have photo radar. The fees or anything like that, it is not my concern. For the safety of our citizens, I think it is a good thing.”
Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says from his perspective photo radar does help motorists slow down.
“Photo radar is a proven traffic law enforcement tool that reduces crashes, lowers speeds and saves lives. The evidence is in and the data is hard to refute,” he said.
“Paradise Valley has always been a leader in the fair and transparent implementation of the technology. We do not abuse the tool and our residents overwhelmingly support its use to help keep patrol officers in the neighborhoods where they belong. No level of manned traffic patrol can achieve the same success as photo enforcement technology.”
Councilwoman Littlefield says the Lee Engineering study commissioned by the city is comprehensive in nature and points to the benefits of photo radar on Scottsdale streets.
“I think it is very comprehensive and it takes into account a long period of time and empirical data. I think the study shows that it does help decrease speeds. If we can save lives, injuries, a lifetime of trauma — nobody wants streets that aren’t safe.”
Mayor Collins echoes a similar tone.
“Red light running cameras and speed enforcement cameras each have their own merits and each have been validated by internal town statistics as well as numerous studies at every level of government, public safety organization and the traffic safety industry,” he said. “Here locally, the recent city of Scottsdale study also seems to validate the merits of the technology and its value to Scottsdale resident public safety.”
When asked if photo radar is solely a money making enterprise for the city of Scottsdale, Councilwoman Littlefield replied, “not for me.”
“For me it is more a case of safety and saving lives,” she said. “Obviously, we take the money because we need to protect the streets, but it is much more than money. I think it is just a good thing to have, but that doesn’t mean the Legislature is going to pay attention to what I think.”
Mayor Collins says the Town of Paradise Valley is a pass-through route for many Valley motorists.
“Photo radar makes money because of the large volumes of traffic that race through our town,” he said.
“We’ve lowered traffic fines, we continue to post signs ahead of every camera, and we set our trigger levels to near-felony speeding levels. Honestly I would propose to town council that we reduce photo enforcement fines to become profit neutral if that were an option to keep the tool in use. In Paradise Valley it’s not about the money, it’s all about public safety.”
North Valley News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org