The Investigators

Nov 9, 2012 7:35 PM by Nichole Szemerei

The cost and future of Tucson's red light cameras

TUCSON - You're rushing through a Tucson intersection, the light turns red and the flash goes off. Knowing what comes next, you dread going to the mailbox. News 4 Tucson investigates if those tickets are making or breaking the budget.

Data put together by the Tucson Police Department of the "Traffic Safety Camera Program," gives facts and stats from the past five years.

There are eight intersections in Tucson where cameras snap thousands photos as violators drive through them.

"Oh crap was that me? Was it the person behind you? What's going to happen next? It's the wait of when you're going to get the letter," says one Tucson driver.

And in that letter is usually a hefty fine of around $300. In the last five years, fees collected by the city, total almost $14 million. Cost of operation was almost $8 million. That means the program has brought in about $6 million since cameras were installed.

"But if you really were to break it down and look at the program expenses as far as the officers I have working, the program the city court staff that are working the program, it's probably very close to being a wash there as far as any money actually coming," says Lt. Elise Souter with TPD.

You may not know, Tucson chooses to double check all citations before they're sent out.

"While we don't have to have the extra step, we could certainly let our vendor take care of that, we like that one on one contact where we are looking at them and we are deeming that these are appropriate citations."

But that means paying officers to do that job. Souter says even if the program isn't making money it's worth it.

"We're not concerned about the money and the funds on that, we're concerned about slowing drivers down and saving lives," she says.

Some drivers agree.

"I think they're fine if they make the community safer, people shouldn't be running red lights," says one Tucson driver.

Others want to do away with the red light and speed cameras all together, saying it's not a fair system and doesn't help.

"It's kind of a hassle I think it could cause more accidents because people are trying to stop real quick, or rush through a yellow light to try to avoid the red flash," another driver says.

The statistics prove otherwise. The intersection of River Rd and Oracle Rd had 38 accidents in 2006, since the cameras were installed in 2011, there were 14. From installation to now, all the intersections have seen at least a 40 percent drop in collisions -- except Broadway Blvd and Craycroft Rd., which broke even.

But is safety enough? What if the system became an expense instead of a wash?

"We always have to evaluate if it's going to cost additional funds. I'm not the person who makes those ultimate decisions, but I certainly find the cameras to be very valuable," says Souter.

The contract for the cameras is up in August of 2013 and TPD is already preparing for the bidding process and anticipates this program will continue.

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