Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Camera Forum Draws 150, Mostly Critics
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Truck driver Ray Padilla was angry, and the crowd backed him up.
He was the first of many speakers to trudge to the podium at City Hall on Tuesday and offer pointed criticism of the cameras used to catch speeders and red-light runners in Albuquerque.
"I want the right for a judge to hear (my appeal), not a cop," Padilla said as the audience clapped and cheered.
He wasn't alone. People pointed fingers, waved their arms and lectured city councilors on the Constitution.
They talked about George Orwell, excessive fines and yellow lights that aren't yellow long enough. Some said the appeals process is stacked against them because people contesting the fines go to a civil administrative hearing, rather than before a regular judge.
Lee Logan, a disc jockey for 106.3 The Range, railed against "Big Brother and the taking away of our rights."
About 150 people attended the forum, sponsored by City Councilor Brad Winter. Most criticized at least some aspect of the program, even if they weren't totally against it.
The cameras drew some supporters, too.
Don Couchman, a neighborhood leader from the northeast part of town, said drivers who run red lights kill innocent people.
"Just how much is a life worth?" he asked.
One woman said, "If you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime."
The crowd was largely unswayed.
Business owner Michael Maestas said red-light cameras usually lead to an increase in "rear-end accidents" because people get paranoid and stop too quickly. Allowing the light to stay yellow longer would help, he said.
"Red-light running is a problem," but the camera program isn't the solution, Maestas said.
Albuquerque police and fire officials at the meeting said the city is among the worst in the nation for fatalities caused by red-light runners. They said with limited police resources, the cameras are a good way to make the streets safer.
Intersections with the cameras have seen a decrease in traumatic accidents, officials said.
"Aren't your loved ones worth the price of automated enforcement?" a narrator in a police video presentation asked.
City Councilor Craig Loy told the crowd that he supports the program. As a former police officer, he said he has handled fatalities and made death notifications to relatives.
"There are a lot of people out there who just don't care" about obeying the traffic laws.