By Bethany Adams, For The Tribune
CENTER POINT– This month, the city of Center Point restarted the controversial traffic safety program that was suspended in 2012. The program, which was originally implemented in 2011, uses a system of cameras in order to combat red light running, stop sign running and speeding within the city. The cameras, supplied by Arizona-based company Redflex, are located at a number of intersections throughout Center Point.
The original program was suspended shortly after it began in response to lawsuits which called the appeals process “unconstitutional.” Confusion surrounding the jurisdiction of Jefferson County courts in dealing with the appeals led city officials to suspend the use of the cameras. In addition, Sheriff Mike Hale pulled deputies from reviewing the footage and ordered them to begin patrolling again.
In 2013, a bill was passed which amended the appeals process and cleared the way for the city to resume using the system. Last year, Center Point created a Public Safety Department which would be responsible for reviewing the footage. The city hired former Fairfield police Officer Antonio Weatherly as director.
According to Mayor Henderson, the cameras were installed in response to a high number of traffic violations within the city which he said put lives in danger. Traffic camera enforcement systems are designed to reduce these instances and improve the safety of the public.
According to Redflex’s Director of Communications, Michael Cavaiola, traffic camera enforcement programs can yield significant results.
“A recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that 79 U.S. cities using photo enforcement saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014,” Cavaiola said in an e-mail. “In cities that turned on red light cameras, there was an average 21 percent drop in fatal red light running crashes, and 14 percent fewer crashes of all types at signalized intersections.”
During the three months in which the cameras were functional in Center Point, Henderson claimed that instances of stop sign running dropped by about 50 percent.
Other studies, however, claim that programs of this nature are not as effective as they appear and, in some cases, can even increase accidents. In 2014, the Chicago Tribune commissioned a study to examine the effectiveness of the city’s red light camera program, which was then the largest system in the country with over 350 cameras. The study found that, while the cameras did decrease angle and turning injury crashes by 15 percent, there was also an “increase of 22 percent in rear-end and injury collisions.”
The study came in the midst of a $2 million bribery scandal surrounding Redflex, who originally held the contract for the system in Chicago. Karen Finley, Redflex’s former CEO, was charged with bribing former city official John Bills in order to secure the contract with the city.
While Center Point’s program will utilize only eight cameras, it drew in an average of $80,000 to $100,000 per month during the time that it was originally active. According to city officials, that money was only used toward public safety.
Despite those numbers, Mayor Henderson said that revenue was not a factor in the decision to install the system.
“We never even discussed how much money we would get when we first contracted with it,” Henderson said. “It was all about people speeding and running stop signs.”
For some community members, the issue of whether or not the program will be beneficial to the city is unclear.
“I’m kind of on the fence about it,” Center Point resident Nora Hargrove said, who believes she was unjustly ticketed by a similar system in another city. “It will make you be more cautious of your driving habits.”
The program is currently in the middle of its month-long warning period which will end on November 1. Issued citations will include the time, date and location of the incident, as well as the information needed to access the footage captured by the camera. Drivers who wish to contest tickets can request an administrative hearing, after which they will be able to appeal to the Jefferson County Circuit Court.