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Speed vans could soon return to Santa Fe

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe Police Department wants to bring back its “STOP” program, a controversial method for reducing speeding that has gone through a series of stops and starts in the past.

If approved by city councilors on Jan. 27, the Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program, or STOP, will resume with two camera-equipped vans and four transportable systems positioned at various points in the city in an effort to catch speeders.

Equipped with radar that triggers a camera to take a photo of a passing vehicle’s license plate if it’s caught speeding, police say, STOP frees up officers to spend more time on other police matters.

But many residents have complained about the “speed vans,” finding the cameras to be an intrusive overreach comparable to Big Brother.

STOP has been dormant since the city allowed its contract with a vendor to run out in 2014. Since then, city councilors have twice passed resolutions to bring it back.

SFPD Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said the unmanned units would be placed along roads in both the northern and southern parts of the city, primarily in locations where the department has received complaints of drivers either speeding or racing on city streets.

“We’re hoping that this can be a good safety measure to make people aware of their speed in these areas,” Valdez said.

Recently, the department deployed a series of “blitzes,” in which officers stationed around the city focus on writing traffic violations where drivers are likely to speed. This method had replaced earlier versions of speed vans the city had used in the past.

But Valdez said blitzes, which produce hundreds of citations, require lots of manpower and paid overtime to complete. The speed vans, on the other hand, do all the work for them.

“We can put a device out there, and it doesn’t need to go for a lunch break,” he said.

He also said those who receive citations from the speed vans, typically around $50, will not have the speeding tickets show up on their records. However, they’re still required to pay the fee.

Speed vans have been the subject of much disdain over the years.

In 2012, a Santa Fe man became so incensed with a speed van that he drove up to one on Bishops Lodge Road late one night and fired multiple gunshots at the van, all while dressed in a nightgown.

Three speed vans in Rio Rancho caught on fire over a period of two years, with investigators saying they suspect the fires were set.