Sgt. Dave Chatterton aims a lidar gun Sunday on Victoria Road in Dartmouth. Halifax Regional Police would like to start using photo radar to catch speeders. (Daily News/Ryan Taplin)

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System would ticket car owners, not drivers.

Photo radar nabs speeders in a hands-off approach, but some cops fear crimes discovered in routine checks would go unseen.

The Daily News

The chief of police wants them. Regional councillors like them. The province has studied them.

But what have other cities' experiences with photo radar cameras taught them?

In Calgary, photo radar is nothing new, having been in use there since 1988.

"I would certainly applaud Halifax if they were to bring it in, because I think the bottom line with that is that it does increase awareness and it does increase safety on the streets," says Sgt. Clive Marsh of the specialized traffic enforcement unit of the Calgary Police Service.

Calgary uses photo radar in high-collision areas and in places where police want to slow down drivers. They're used on roads where it may be harder to send a police officer and in construction, school and playground zones.

An analysis of photo-radar use in Calgary between 2001 to 2004 found a 29 per cent decrease in collisions at 20 sites where that type of radar is used.

But not all police officers are fully supportive. Const. Dave Moore, spokesman for the Halifax-based Municipal Association of Police Personnel, said the Canadian Police Association, for which he is the local spokesman, favours photo radar. However, that's only if a police officer monitors the technology and pulls over cars - essentially the status quo.

Police presence

"To enforce and educate, you have to have police presence there. Otherwise it becomes nothing more than a tax grab," Moore said in an interview.

"If you look at statistics regarding enforcement, a high percentage of crimes are solved and apprehensions made as a result of traffic stops."

He said police already have a difficult time getting people to pay unpaid fines and that adding photo radar will only exacerbate the problem.

"It's a huge, huge issue. There are millions of dollars in fines out there because everybody knows what happens if you don't pay fines: Nothing," Moore said.

Unpaid fines come up when renewing a licence or trying to get a new one.

"The only people that pay fines are honest people, and it's a damn shame, because a number of years ago, it was a period of time in custody if you didn't pay your traffic fines," he said.

The Canada Safety Council backs photo-radar use, and recently released a poll saying Canadians are generally supportive. It found that 69 per cent of Canadians support the use of photo radar on highways and 84 per cent support their use in school zones.

Red-light cameras - which photograph licence plates of vehicles that run red lights so that a ticket can be mailed to the registered owner - were supported by 77 per cent of Canadians in the poll.

No evidence

Ottawa-based advocate Emile Therien, past president of the Canada Safety Council, said there is a body of evidence saying photo radar slows down traffic, hence improving safety.

"Photo radar is used in 80 countries around the world," Therien said.

He said he saw photographs of the recent crash in Dartmouth that sparked city hall to renew its calls for photo radar.

"The cars were just smashed; I just couldn't believe it," Therien said.

A 2005 study of the British Columbia experience attributed 1,542 injuries and 70 fatal collisions averted thanks to photo radar.

The knock on photo radar is cost, often called a cash cow for the easy money it can generate.

In Calgary, the city raked in $11.5 million in 2005 on photo radar alone and $12.5 million in 2004.

"They're catching the lawbreakers; screw the lawbreakers," Therien said.

The province of Ontario stopped using photo radar on highways amid concerns of it being a cash cow. Meanwhile, the province of Quebec has recently announced a pilot program for photo radar to be launched in 2008.