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Commission considers whether to keep red-light cameras

April 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The contract for L.A.'s red-light cameras is up, and the Board of Police Commissioners is considering whether to renew the city's contract.

Some city leaders are questioning the foundation of the program. They want to know that the company that runs the camera system is motivated by safety, not revenue.

Downtown L.A. has 32 photo-enforcement intersections. Last year, they resulted in 46,000 citations.

Driver Terry Jones said he got a ticket for making a California stop at a right turn. His ticket was $500, and he has two of them.

"It went to a warrant, so I am trying to take care of that right now because I don't have the money to pay for it," he said.

Complaints are no surprise, but now some are getting traction. The LAPD is poised to renew its contract with ATS, the company that operates L.A.'s photo-enforcement system. The police commission said on Tuesday that it would not renew the contract without further study.

"Perhaps at some point, we make the conclusion that we don't think the program ought to go forward, which seems to me to be the first issue we ultimately need to address," said Police Commissioner Richard Drooyan.

Camera critic Jay Beeber, founder of Safe Streets L.A., is raising the loudest voice.

"I'm not saying that people should run red lights, that's not my thing. We are saying you shouldn't be citing people for things that don't make any safety difference whatsoever," Beeber said.

The LAPD says the cameras save lives.

"Our statistics show that. In fact, there have been no deaths associated in intersections with running red lights," said LAPD Capt. Tom MacDonald.

Yet critics tell officials it was really another factor that saved lives at Venice and Grand boulevards. Before the cameras were installed, the yellow light was extended, and motorists had more warning time.

The city's own auditor found that the cameras had not been placed in the most dangerous intersections, and accidents still occur in the photo-enforced intersections.

ATS agrees that the cameras should be redistributed but rejects the idea that re-timing traffic lights will help.

"It increases congestions and delays. That adds to the frustration of the driver, so that also has serious consequences," said Robert Zaitonni, an ATS traffic engineer.

The city's contract is worth $3.1 million. The issue will be studied further, and then the police commission will hold a hearing on April 19. It will then go to several city committees, and then the city council will have the final decision.