Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Brakes Put on Traffic Cameras
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
City councilors, at least most of those present Monday, want to halt Albuquerque's traffic-camera program for now.
They voted 3-2 to prohibit the city from issuing any fines until the council decides whether to resume the program, perhaps in January.
That doesn't mean the program will stop immediately. The bill still must go to the mayor before taking effect.
Council President Brad Winter, who sponsored the bill, said he has seen no evidence that the cameras have reduced accidents.
"I just think this program has been mismanaged," he said. "There's been misinformation."
The vote came during an unusual meeting. Four city councilors Sally Mayer, Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Ken Sanchez refused to attend.
They were angry about negotiations that led to Winter becoming council president at the beginning of Monday's meeting. They accused him of reneging on commitments to back other people seeking the office, which he denied.
The camera debate may not be over. The absent councilors could try to repeal Monday's decision at a future meeting when everyone is present. The bill also could face a veto from Mayor Martin Chávez. It would take six of nine council votes to override a veto.
Police Chief Ray Schultz defended the cameras. The number of citations is dropping, he said.
"The system is working," he said. "We see that in the change in driving behavior."
Voting in favor of suspending the program were Winter, Michael Cadigan and Rey Garduño. Debbie O'Malley and Isaac Benton voted against the bill.
Cadigan said he was concerned about the constitutional "due process" rights of people cited in the program. They go before a city administrator rather than a regular judge.
He also was uncomfortable having a private company help run the program. "We shouldn't have a corporate profit motive in enforcing the law," Cadigan said.
Benton said he wasn't ready to stop the program yet, though he had concerns about it.
Schultz said it's difficult to compare accident rates before and after cameras were installed. Weather and other factors can make the comparison invalid, Schultz said.
It would be best, he said, to let a mayor-appointed task force do its research before deciding whether to halt the program.
"What we're asking for is that we don't rush to judgment," said Bruce Perlman, the top executive under the mayor.
The traffic cameras, stationed at roughly 20 intersections, photograph vehicles that run red lights or exceed the speed limit. Camera-equipped vans are also used.
Chávez, who backed creation of the program, has appointed a task force to review it and consider scrapping it.
Winter's bill calls for the camera program to remain suspended until the task force develops recommendations on how to proceed. The group's report is expected Jan. 15, Winter said.