Photo evaluations under way, Police mum on alleged deals
By Rusty Bradshaw, Independent Newspapers

Scottsdale’s photo enforcement on Loop 101 will end in late-October and the real work of determining if it will be a permanent fixture is under way.

Simon Washington, an Arizona State University professor, is conducting an independent evaluation of the program, according to Mary O’Conner, Scottsdale transportation general manager.

“The three factors to be researched in the evaluation are speed, volume and crashes,” Ms. O’Conner explained.

The nine-month pilot program started Jan. 22 with a 30-day warning period, with citations issued beginning Feb. 23. Through Aug. 16, more than 63,000 citations and 37,000 notices of violations were issued, according to Ms. O’Conner.

Vehicle speeds are calculated by sensors in the roadway at camera locations in the enforcement area between Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, Ms. O’Conner said. The same sensors count vehicle volume.

“This is technically not radar, but some refer to it as that,” Ms. O’Conner said.

Some North Scottsdale residents believe the program has helped reduce speeding on Loop 101 and want the program to continue.

“I drive that stretch of Loop 101 a fair amount and attest to the fact that speeds are lower since the cameras have been in operation,” said North Scottsdale resident Wes Zimmerman.

Ms. O’Conner would not comment on whether speeds have actually dropped.

“Because the evaluation is going on, we don’t want to taint it by talking about figures,” Ms. O’Conner explained.

Drivers continue to exceed the speed limit in the enforcement stretch, some on a continuing basis. Scottsdale Police Aug. 8 arrested a female driver, Francesca Cisneros, 32, who activated enforcement cameras 70 times in a five-month period, according to Sgt. Mark Clark, Scottsdale Police spokesman.

“The closest multiple speeder after that was a man who had 25 activations and another who had 22,” Sgt. Clark said.

Not all Ms. Cisneros’ activations resulted in citations, but they did include five for criminal speeding (more than 20 miles over the limit), according to Sgt. Clark. She was also charged with driving with a suspended license for two of the speeding incidents, Sgt. Clark added.

All but six of Ms. Cisneros’ incidents were on Loop 101, said Sgt. Clark. Scottsdale has had photo enforcement on selected streets for 10 years.

Scottsdale City Council will consider, possibly early next year, results of the evaluation to determine whether to keep the program. Ms. O’Conner said city staff expects to have at least a preliminary report by January.

“There is about a 90-day lag between when the cameras are turned off and getting all the data,” Ms. O’Conner said.

In addition to information during the nine-month trial program, Ms. O’Conner said data will be gathered for comparison after cameras are off.

The photo enforcement program began in response to residents’ concerns, according to Ms. O’Conner. Scottsdale worked with Arizona Department of Transportation to find solutions to the speeding problem on the freeway.

“We had to get a right-of-way permit because the freeway is not Scottsdale’s jurisdiction,” Ms. O’Conner said.

She added several agencies, including Department of Public Safety and ADOT, want to study the results of the program evaluation.

The program has experienced some difficulties, including identifying drivers and allegations Scottsdale Police Department allowed some law enforcement officers exceeding speed limits on the freeway under non-emergency conditions without being cited.

Sgt. Clark said identification difficulties have been a part of the photo enforcement program since it started in the city 10 years ago. Changes were made in the system to address that, he added.

“Through a court mandate, we are required to have people actually look at the photos and match them with registration records,” Sgt. Clark said. “Photo enforcement is not a perfect system, but it is an effective system.”

The program’s goal is to change drivers’ behavior, Sgt. Clark explained.

“Speeding will never be totally eliminated, but drivers are getting the message,” Sgt. Clark said.

Reacting to a story in an East Valley daily newspaper alleging deals with other law enforcement agencies to ignore officer speeding caught on camera, North Scottsdale resident Tracy Burgo said all law enforcement officers should be required to adhere to speed limits while not in emergency situations.

“Accidents can happen with their cars and trucks as well,” Ms. Burgo said. “They could not only injure themselves, they can injure a passenger in their vehicle, people in another vehicle or innocent bystanders.”

Police officials would make no detailed comments about alleged deals with other law enforcement agencies, Sgt. Clark said.

“We do not believe this should be played out in the papers,” he added.

However, Sgt. Clark said Scottsdale Police now send notice of violations to other agencies when officers activate a speed camera. Notices of violation are sent to companies, such as rental car businesses, to allow company officials to determine who was driving the vehicle.

“Law enforcement agencies will investigate each notice they receive to determine whether or not the officer was on an emergency call,” Sgt. Clark said. “If not, then a citation is issued.”

Three Scottsdale police officers were cited for speeding in 2005.

Mr. Zimmerman believes no deals were made to ignore officer speeding.

“The individual checking the photo records may have made an individual decision not to report an incident, but this does not detract in any way from the validity of the photo speed enforcement program,” Mr. Zimmerman said.