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KC police officials request more study of red-light cameras

By CHRISTINE VENDEL
The Kansas City Star

Kansas City police board members today deferred a planned discussion about the effectiveness of red-light cameras until next month, saying they wanted more information and more time to study a police analysis of wrecks at monitored intersections.

The analysis of more than 2,500 wrecks showed that overall wrecks, rear-end wrecks and injury wrecks all increased in the two years after the cameras were installed at 17 intersections. The analysis also revealed that right-angle crashes, known as T-bone wrecks, decreased at those intersections.

Additional data released today showed that wrecks caused by red-light runners at the 17 intersections dropped from 52 wrecks prior to the cameras’ arrival to 24 wrecks during the second year after their arrival.

American Traffic Solutions, the private company that has an annual $1.6 million contract with the city to run the camera program, sent four employees to the board meeting. They pointed out numerous errors in the police analysis and complained to board members and Police Chief Darryl Forté prior to the meeting.

Police officials fixed many of the math errors Monday night and issued a new report to board members before the meeting that showed the same wreck trends, but Board President Pat McInerney said board members would need more time to review the corrected report.

In the meantime, McInerney asked police officials to gather more information about wreck causes and find out how many criminal investigations have been aided by the cameras. Forté asked police officials to check weather patterns that may have affected the number of wrecks, and find out whether drivers were impaired or improperly licensed.

McInerney told police Major Rich Lockhart to “collaborate or at least consult” with ATS officials before reporting back to the board next month.

ATS Vice President Jason Norton said the police analysis showed the wrong number of tickets issued since the cameras went online in early 2009. Police have issued about 150,000 tickets, he said. At $100 per ticket, the citations could generate $15 million.

Norton talked with reporters after the board meeting and said that, despite the increase in injury wrecks, he still viewed the police analysis as “good news” because it showed that the cameras were reducing the type of wrecks associated with red-light running.

“They’re doing the job they’re designed to do,” he said.

He also noted that camera-generated citations have steadily decreased — a sign that fewer drivers are running red lights.

Norton blamed the increase in overall wrecks at red-light camera intersections on an “explosion” of cell phone usage by drivers, including texting, and other distracted driving.

Citywide and statewide, crashes decreased overall in 2009 and 2010.

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or email cvendel@kcstar.com.

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