Red-light cam­era tick­ets go un­paid

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Rich Con­nell

Some 45% of red-light cam­era tick­ets is­sued in Los An­ge­les are cur­rently un­paid, partly be­cause holds are not placed on driver’s li­censes and ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions for un­set­tled photo en­force­ment in­frac­tions, city of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day.

The dis­clo­sure came as City Con­troller Wendy Greuel is­sued an au­dit that found the photo en­force­ment pro­gram by­passed some of the city’s most dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tions and costs the city more than $1 mil­lion a year to op­er­ate, de­spite fines and fees that can ex­ceed $500 per in­frac­tion.

LAPD of­fi­cials said they learned dur­ing the au­dit that the state Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles has not been forc­ing pay­ment of delin­quent red-light cam­era fines dur­ing li­cense and reg­is­tra­tion re­newals. Other types of ci­ta­tions typ­i­cally must be paid be­fore re­newals are granted, said Chief Char­lie Beck, who ap­peared

with Greuel at a news con­fer­ence be­neath a down­town red-light cam­era.

A DMV spokesman said mo­torists is­sued photo ci­ta­tions do not sign prom­ises to ap­pear in court, which are stan­dard with mov­ing vi­o­la­tions is­sued by traf­fic of­fi­cers. It is a fail­ure to ap­pear or pay the fine af­ter sign­ing a ticket that typ­i­cally trig­gers a hold on a driver’s li­cense re­newal, said agency spokesman Ar­mando Botello. He also said Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court had not for­warded hold re­quests to the DMV for red-light cam­era tick­ets.

Al­lan Para­chini, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion di­rec­tor for the Los An­ge­les court sys­tem, said the is­sue raised by the au­dit was be­ing re­viewed and he could not com­ment.

About 56,000 red-light cam­era tick­ets is­sued by the city are un­paid, ac­cord­ing to the LAPD. Over­all, about one-third of traf­fic tick­ets go un­paid, Beck said.

The LAPD is work­ing with the courts and the DMV to cor­rect the is­sue as part of a broader push to im­prove the pro­gram’s cost ef­fi­ciency and safety ben­e­fits, Beck said.

Among other changes, Beck and Greuel said the city, which is plan­ning to ex­pand the pro­gram be­gin­ning next year, should fo­cus cam­era en­force­ment on the most dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tions. Both said the place­ment of the ex­ist­ing 32 cam­era sys­tems was driven partly by pol­i­tics and a de­sire to have at least one red­light cam­era in each of the city’s 15 coun­cil dis­tricts.

“We should de­ploy them like any other of­fi­cer,” based on pub­lic safety needs, Beck said.

The au­dit also found that the LAPD had not de­vel­oped data that con­clu­sively show the cam­eras have im­proved safety. It noted one study that found half of the in­ter­sec­tions equipped with cam­eras showed no re­duc­tions in ac­ci­dents.

Beck agreed that bet­ter anal­y­sis is needed, but strongly de­fended the pro­gram for cut­ting fa­tal­i­ties at the tar­geted in­ter­sec­tions. There have been no traf­fic deaths at the in­ter­sec­tions since cam­eras were in­stalled, he said.

Based on pre­vi­ous trends, “we would have had 10 fa­tal­i­ties,” he said. “This is why we were in­ter­ested in red-light cam­eras in the first place.”

Beck stressed that the pro­gram is not in­tended to make money. But he and other of­fi­cials hope to im­prove the pro­gram’s fi­nan­cial foot­ing when a new con­tract to op­er­ate the cam­eras is is­sued next year.

Coun­cil­man Den­nis Zine said it is dif­fi­cult to make the pro­gram pay for it­self be­cause most of each fine goes to the state and county, with only about $159 per ticket com­ing to the city.

“I don’t be­lieve the pro­gram works as well as it should,” he said.

Au­di­tors found that about two-thirds of the city’s red-light cam­era tick­ets are for right-turn vi­o­la­tions. Re­duc­ing straight-through red-light run­ning, which can cause se­ri­ous broadside col­li­sions, has been a pri­mary sell­ing point for the cam­eras.

But a 2008 Times in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that some cities, in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les, get most of their photo en­force­ment money from cit­ing slower, rolling stop right turns, which many ex­perts say cause fewer and less se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents.

De­spite the au­dit’s crit­i­cal find­ings, Greuel said the red-light cam­era pro­gram can be im­proved and is worth­while if it “can pre­vent ac­ci­dents and pre­vent even one fa­tal­ity.”

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