Cops caught speeding on city cameras

By Michael Gisick (Contact)
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The unblinking eyes of Albuquerque's red light cameras caught 29 police cars speeding or running stop lights during November, according to police figures.

A police union official says that's evidence the cameras, which have faced some public criticism, can't account for the variety of conditions faced by drivers.

But top police officials say it's evidence the cameras are working.

"This program does not discriminate," APD spokesman John Walsh said Tuesday, the day after Police Chief Ray Schultz released the figures at a City Council session.

"It captures you whether you are driving a Ferrari, an ice cream truck, a school bus or a police car."

Walsh said the number of officers cited in previous months wasn't available, and said he didn't know how many of the citations issued in November were for running red lights and how many were for speeding.

But he said a preliminary investigation had determined that the cited officers were not responding to emergency calls when they were caught on camera.

Albuquerque Police Officer's Association Vice President Ben Baker, however, said such a determination rested on nuances that could not be recorded by a mindless camera.

He questioned whether the cameras could accurately determine such factors as whether the officers had engaged their emergency lights.

"As an officer, I'd hate to have to worry about getting a ticket in the mail when all I'm trying to do is my job," he said.

The cameras automatically photograph vehicles when they are speeding or running a red light. Citations are then mailed to the registered operator of the vehicle.

Like any citizen, officers caught by the cameras will be fined. They may also face department discipline ranging from counseling to suspension, Walsh said.

Fines for running a red light are about $150 for a first offense. Speeding fines depend on how much the driver was exceeding the speed limit.

Walsh said the cameras are set to catch people speeding by a "significant amount," though he declined to say exactly how much.

Police officers aren't the only public officials cited by traffic cameras in Albuquerque.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's SUV was cited for speeding in October after it was caught by a camera in an Albuquerque police van.

Six municipal bus drivers sued the city in August after they were cited by the red light cameras. They said the city deducted their fines from their paychecks without giving them a chance to appeal.

Red light cameras are currently installed at 11 intersections in Albuquerque, with nine more cameras on the way, Walsh said.