June 26, 2006
Tempe considers speeding camera upgrades
By Garin Groff

Tempe is considering a more aggressive campaign against leadfoots with a massive expansion of its photo enforcement program. The more robust effort would put red-light cameras in 12 places - up from two today - and even ticket drivers who are caught on camera speeding through intersections when signals are green.

Scofflaws also would have to watch for two or three midblock photo enforcement systems, a new approach for Tempe that's based on a similar bank of cameras that Scottsdale has on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.

The proposed expansion comes a year after Tempe discussed scrapping the program because it lost nearly $300,000 one year.

All that red ink is a major reason the city is looking for the change, police Sgt. Randy Fougner said.

Tempe's antiquated system is small, labor-intensive and results in citations going out to a relatively small percentage of speeders because old-fashioned film images are often poor. The equipment dates to 1996, when the city was one of Arizona's first communities to use what was at the time cutting-edge technology.

The new technology, including digital cameras, would boost photo quality, the number of citations issued, and it also would cut the time to mail citations from about a month to one week, Fougner said.

Tempe is looking for bids from private companies to run the program, as it does now. The city expects new technology and a growing number of companies in the business will make for a more efficient operation.

The city expects to get bids in the coming months. If approved by City Council, the new equipment would start nabbing speeders early next year.

Tempe drivers like the program, Fougner said, citing a 2005 city survey that 74 percent of residents considered the effort effective.

Photo enforcement also has a vocal group of opponents, Fougner acknowledged, who suspect greedy cities like the technology because it's an easy way to make money.

But cities usually break even at best, Fougner said. Tempe doesn't use photo enforcement simply to make money, he said.

"That's not the purpose of the program," he said. "It's to increase compliance and get drivers to slow down and be more attentive to their driving. They almost accept (traffic accidents) as a socially acceptable way to die and it's not. We want people to be a little more attuned to their driving."