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Red-light violations rising since KC suspended enforcement of camera program

Updated: 2014-01-28T14:16:46Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City may not be issuing red-light camera tickets while the program faces a legal challenge, but the cameras are still on and flashing whenever a motorist runs a red light.

And the latest raw numbers from the red-light camera company, released Monday, show that is happening a lot more since the city stopped enforcing the robotic policing program in November.

In December, the cameras recorded 7,775 red-light running incidents, according to raw data from American Traffic Solutions. Those same cameras recorded 5,239 red-light running incidents in December 2012, when police were issuing tickets for cars that triggered the cameras.

So incidents have increased nearly 50 percent, said Steve Glorioso, a public relations consultant on contract to ATS.

“Public safety is clearly being compromised with the suspension of the program,” Glorioso said Monday, arguing that people know the city isn’t enforcing the program so they are more inclined to run red lights at the 17 intersections where the cameras are located.

Kansas City Police Maj. Jim Pruetting, who supervises the traffic division, agreed and said police were concerned about this trend.

“The general observation is, because people know (the cameras) are not active, that they are being less cautious than they would have been with the threat of a ticket,” Pruetting said.

Pruetting said police aggressively patrol the four camera intersections with the highest accident rates and monitor the others that have cameras. The high-accident locations are: North Oak Trafficway and Vivion Road; Gregory Boulevard and Bruce R. Watkins Drive; 59th Street and Watkins Drive; and Missouri 152 and North Flintlock Road.

Pruetting said Monday he could not produce information on patrol tickets issued in December or whether accidents at the intersections have increased since camera enforcement was suspended.

A lawyer for several people who are challenging the red-light camera program said Monday he had not seen the data and would not automatically assume it was legitimate –– because it came from a company that has a financial interest in perpetuating the program and seeing the city resume enforcement.

The city has stopped paying American Traffic Solutions the monthly fee of $4,500 per camera while the program is suspended.

Lawyer Ryan Keane, whose clients successfully challenged the program before the Western Missouri Court of Appeals, said people should scrutinize the data and not presume it means public safety is jeopardized.

Keane said many tickets are issued for cars caught a split second after the light turns red, while traffic was still clearing the intersection, and not when the most serious accidents occur. He said there are much better ways to make the roads safer.

Kansas City is appealing the ruling favoring Keane’s clients to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the high court has not said whether it will take the case. Several other rulings by the Eastern District Court of Appeals called into question programs similar to the one in Kansas City. So with those adverse rulings, Kansas City decided to suspend enforcement until it gets clarity on the program’s legality.

ATS’ raw data are not the same as tickets that would have been issued. Glorioso said that about 20 percent of the time, ATS or police throw out the camera incidents, for a variety of reasons, and don’t issue a ticket for a red-light violation. But ATS has tallied the same raw data from year to year, so Glorioso said the comparisons were valid.

Since the program took effect in 2009, the number of recorded incidents has dropped every year until this year. ATS recorded 11,604 incidents in December 2009; 9,440 in December 2010; 7,610 in December 2011, and 5,239 in December 2012. Then enforcement was suspended in November, and now the number of incidents caught on camera has risen.

City Councilman Scott Taylor, a red-light camera supporter and a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said Monday he didn’t think it was a coincidence that the cameras were catching more red-light runners since enforcement was suspended.

“There’s no accountability, as there was before,” he said. “I’m extremely concerned. I wish the courts would resolve this once and for all and allow us to have local control of our public safety.”

Kansas City launched its red-light camera program in spring 2009. For most of the time since then, the city has operated 29 cameras at 17 intersections. Violations peaked in August 2009 with more than 11,000 tickets issued that month but had plummeted and until recently had averaged 2,500 to 3,000 tickets. Police also said the number of accidents had dropped nearly 30 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Kansas City officials thought the legality of its red-light cameras was settled law in 2011, when an Eastern District appeals court upheld a program run by Creve Coeur and American Traffic Solutions. Kansas City tweaked its law in November 2011 to follow the Creve Coeur model.

But in November of 2013, both the Eastern and Western District appeals courts overturned the Creve Coeur ruling and raised major concerns about Kansas City’s law. With those lingering legal questions, city officials chose to suspend the program until the state Supreme Court can provide a final answer.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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