5,000 ran red lights during 30-day trial period
By David Crowder / El Paso Times
Article Launched:10/18/2006 12:00:39 AM MDT
In the 30-day trial period for red-light cameras at nine intersections in El Paso, the cameras detected more than 5,000 violations - just 500 fewer than the number of citations police issued citywide in the past year to drivers for running red lights.

"That just tells you how many we missed," Assistant Police Chief Paul Cross told the City Council during a briefing on the 30-day trial run of the red-light camera pilot project.

The program's aim, Cross said, is to reduce the number of red-light infractions.

As an indication of what may happen, he said, in the five days leading up to the start of enforcement Sunday, the number of violations at the nine camera-equipped intersections plummeted 58 percent, from 731 last Wednesday to 304 Sunday.

"How many accidents never happened?" asked East Side city Rep. Presi Ortega, who last year pushed the City Council to initiate a red-light camera program in El Paso. "How many lives did we save?"

A one-year pilot program began Sunday for the red-light cameras at 12 intersections
identified as among the most dangerous in the city.

Now that the 30-day grace period is over, most of the owners of vehicles whose rear license plates are photographed as they enter an intersection on a red light will receive a mailed notice of a $75 civil fine for the first offense.

The citations will not go on the owners' official driving records, and an appeal process is available for those who wish to plead that they were not at the wheel when the violation occurred.

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 12, the cameras detected 3,947 violations, but 615 were rejected in the manual review process. As of last Thursday, 916 warnings had been mailed out and 2,416 cases were still under review. Exact numbers were not available for the entire 30-day period, but officials said more than 5,000 violations were recorded.

Several council members expressed surprise when police

Cmdr. Eric Shelton reported that only 21 vehicles with Mexican license plates - 0.02 percent of the total - were involved in photographed infractions.

"Vehicles from Mexico are not a factor in this study," he said.

But the city and the company it has commissioned to conduct the pilot program, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., have an arrangement with the state of New Mexico that will permit citing owners of vehicles with New Mexican license plates.

Tuesday's briefing came near the end of a five-hour council meeting, but Northeast resident Larry Wilder waited that long to express his opposition to the program.

He questioned why the Police Department doesn't deploy more officers to enforce traffic violations and said he knows the real answer.

"I don't care how many times you say it's not about the money when it's all about the money," he said.

But Chita Guevara, who also waited to speak on the issue, commended the City Council.

"The numbers presented here by the Police Department are very telling," she said. "What does it take for this to be totally accepted?"

David Crowder may be reached at dcrowder@elpasotimes.com; 546-6194.