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I-Team: El Paso Plans To Add More Red Light Cameras As Other Cities Nix Theirs

As cities across America start getting rid of their red light camera programs, El Paso is planning on adding more.

There are currently 27 cameras operating at 18 intersections. Commander Zina Silva with the El Paso Police Department explained the cameras take three pictures and about 30 seconds of video when drivers violate the rules by running a red light.

After an officer reviews video of the offense, a $75 citation is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Police and city officials say the program has been successful in preventing accidents and generating revenue. However, ABC-7 has learned several states and cities are banning or re-valuating their contracts with red light camera providers.

That prompted the I-Team to look deeper into the traffic safety impact and profitability of El Paso’s agreement with Redflex, the company that supplies and maintains the red light cameras.

According to the Institute for Highway Safety, seven states have banned red light cameras altogether: Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

The city of Las Cruces was ordered to get rid of half of its red light cameras last year after the New Mexico Department of Transportation ruled the city needed to remove two cameras from state roads.

Los Angeles and Houston used to have red light camera programs but recently got rid of theirs, too. City officials in Los Angeles told reporters they were losing more than $1 million dollars a year keeping the program running because their city’s court system was having trouble collecting the fines issued in each citation.

“Fortunately El Paso is not losing money on the program,” said Lynly Leeper, the city’s Chief Budget Officer. Leeper said the program has brought in about $3.8 million in revenue to the city since the first cameras went up in 2006.

ABC-7’s I-Team looked through the terms of the city’s contract with Redflex. Out of every paid citation, Redflex gets to keep just less than $50 while the city gets between $26 and $27.

“The benefit for the city is Redlex pays for the entire program, from the installation of the camera to the system maintenance,” said Silva.

After the first 100 paid violations per camera each month, the city gets to keep all the revenue– but there’s a catch.

“Fifty percent of that revenue gets turned over to the state,” said Leeper. Not only does the state of Texas take half of the earnings, Leeper said challenges remain in making sure all the citation money is collected.

“Obviously we’d like to collect 100 percent of the revenue and we haven’t been able to do that yet,” said Leeper. According to the city, about 29,000 citations remain unpaid, which is why they’re looking to implement scofflaw measures.

“It would mean if a citizen goes in to renew their vehicle registration and they owed a fine to the city, they would not be able to renew until the fine was paid. Right now it’s turned over to a collection agency, it’s not reported to a credit bureau and it doesn’t go on your driving record,” said Leeper.

Unlike a traffic ticket from a real police officer, red light camera citations are civil violations so they can be more difficult to enforce. City officials said they are drafting the scofflaw measures now to be able to present them to City Council and County Commissioners, “sooner rather than later.”

So once the state and Redflex get their cut of the revenue, what happens to the rest of the money? Leeper said the money is allowed to be used for traffic improvement. She said $500,000 have already been used to fund additional signals at intersections. Here’s how the rest of the money will be broken down for fiscal year 2012 according to Leeper:

-$32,000 on radar guns -$250,000 on more signals and flashers -$250,000 on lane markings -$10,000 on public safety announcements

What about safety? Commander Silva said that’s one of the most significant components in measuring the program’s success. “What we can’t put a number on is how many lives we’ve saved,” said Silva.

Statistics obtained by the El Paso Police Department show red light-related right angle crashes went down 48 percent since 2008. Between 2006 and June 2011, there was a 33 percent decrease in red light-related serious injury collisions.

“Our rear-end crashes from 2006 to the present have relatively remained the same,” said Silva. “I don’t think we’ve had any repeat offenders since the inception of the program.”

If a car owner receives a citation but was not behind the wheel when the vehicle ran a red light, that car owner can go through an appeals process involving a hearing officer or a municipal court judge.

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