Red light cameras in Albuquerque were officially turned off two weeks ago, and police worry there’s already an uptick in drivers who run red lights.
Camera citations between Nov. 7 and Dec. 12 jumped about 12 percent over the same period last year, according to statistics from Albuquerque police.
Cmdr. Eric Garcia said that could be because drivers were under the false impression the cameras already had been turned off. Now that they are off, Garcia worries more drivers will ignore red lights and increase the number of crashes. Speed vans also have been eliminated.
“If the past is any predictor of the future, I think they will go up,” Garcia said.
For example, red light violations increased by almost 600 percent at the Jefferson and Paseo del Norte intersection since the state turned some of the cameras off in spring 2010.
Garcia said the department is going on the offensive. Its motorcycle unit, with 21 officers, will be deployed to some of the city’s most dangerous intersections to patrol and cite drivers who run red lights. School resource officers will monitor intersections around schools.
Red light cameras have been a contentious issue in Albuquerque since they were installed seven years ago. The state last year ordered all cameras on state roads to be shuttered. The rest of the cameras on Albuquerque roads were shut off on Oct. 26 after city officials let a contract lapse with Arizona-based Redflex, which operates them. They were turned back on Nov. 6, but were shut off again on Dec. 14 for good. City councilors repealed the ordinance authorizing the program in November after 53 percent of voters rejected the cameras the month before.
Councilor Dan Lewis, a vocal opponent, said it’s about time the cameras were shut.
“APD needs to do their job and stop complaining about the photo enforcement. The decision has been made, the policies have been carried out, the peoples’ voice was heard,” Lewis said. “This is not the time for APD to complain about policies that have already been decided about.”
Lewis argued the cameras cost taxpayers too much and gave “a false sense of security to the public.”
He disputed the claim that cameras stop red light runners, and said it’s more beneficial to have officers out on the streets pulling drivers over than waiting for a camera to catch them in the act.
“By having officers on the street pulling people over, we’re able to find warrants, we’re able to find people with expired driver’s licenses, we’re able to take criminals off the streets,” Lewis said.
But Garcia said statistics show red light cameras helped reduce traffic crashes.
Data provided by APD show traffic accidents at 20 red light camera intersections decreased from 1,280 in 2007 to 1,045 in 2010, when some were turned off. There were 704 accidents at those intersections from January to September 2011, which represents the latest available data.
“We believe they’re effective. We believe it’s changed the driving behavior of people who drive by them,” Garcia said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal