Mesa will fight fatalities with cameras at 5 corners

Senta Scarborough
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 5, 2006 12:00 AM

MESA - Mesa police are issuing a "call to action," asking its staff, city departments, community groups, schools and residents to join the effort to make city roads safer.

If you're not paying attention, it could cost you in traffic court.

Today, the Police Department will kick off "Operation Drive and Arrive," which is aimed at reducing crashes. It comes with increased enforcement, education and, later in the month, a new, high-tech method to catch speeders.

Mesa shattered the record last year with 67 deaths in 64 fatal crashes. The previous record was set almost a decade ago with 39 deaths in 32 collisions. So far in 2006, Mesa has 34 traffic deaths in 32 collisions. If it stays on that pace, Mesa would end the year with 51 fatalities.

"There is a problem," Police Chief George Gascón said. "I think it is a trend. (This year) we are not doing a lot better."

Mesa is heading into the peak months for traffic crashes, when the city's population increases with the return of winter visitors and the holiday season.

On Monday, Mesa police for the first time will use intersection speed cameras at five locations all along Southern Avenue to snap photos of drivers going at least 11 mph over the limit, regardless of whether the light is red, yellow or green. This is in addition to red-light cameras, which take photos of red-light runners at 30 intersections in the city. Police said a driver who speeds through a red light will receive only a ticket for red-light running.

A decision by the City Council limits operation of the intersection speed cameras to just one at a time. The first intersection is Gilbert Road at Southern Avenue.

"The goal is not to raise funds but change driver behavior," Gascón said.

Detective Terry Dorn, who has been the Police Department's photo safety coordinator, said, "It's not just our citizens but citizens traveling through our city. It's a huge obligation."

Police will rotate the intersection using the speed cameras and publish the location on the department Web site, For the first 30 days, ticketed drivers will receive warnings.