More sophisticated photo-radar coming to Beaverton
by David Anderson, The Oregonian Tuesday June 17, 2008, 4:38 PM
BEAVERTON -- New technology is coming to the city's photo red-light cameras at four intersections, with higher resolution cameras and new video cameras.
That could mean a new target for the cameras -- drivers who illegally make right turns at red lights without stopping.
Law enforcement officers say the new technology leaves little doubt about whether a driver violated the law and leads to fewer trials. But at least one Beaverton lawyer critical of what he calls "mechanized policing" doesn't think the new technology is a good thing.
Beaverton was a pioneer with both photo radar in 1996 and photo red light in 2001. But because the city started early, it has outdated equipment.
Four other Oregon cities that contract with Redflex Traffic Systems -- Albany, Medford, Newberg and Salem -- have the newer technology, including video cameras.
The Beaverton City Council on Monday renewed its contract with Redflex of Scottsdale, Ariz., for six years.
The city will pay Redflex $50,500 a month for the equipment and to process photos and video from the four intersections and two radar vans.
In the budget year that ended June 30, 2007, the city collected nearly $1.4 million in fines from the two programs, said Holly Thompson, an administrative analyst for the city. Of that, about 20 percent went to the state and 6 percent to Washington County. Redflex took about 44 percent of the total. The city spent 19 percent on operational costs, such as paying retired officers to staff the vans. The last 12 percent, or $162,000, was essentially profit for the city.
More than the revenue, the two systems have improved safety, Thompson said. Speeding in neighborhoods has been reduced from more than 6 percent of vehicles to less than 2 percent. There are 48 percent fewer injury accidents at intersections with the cameras since 2001, she said.
In exchange for the longer contract, Redflex agreed to upgrade the city's equipment. That means two new photo radar vans, which will be replaced again in three years.
It also means better still cameras at red lights. The city's 1.5 megapixel cameras will be replaced with 12 megapixel cameras. The city will get video cameras around mid-September,.
The cameras will run constantly. When the system detects someone running a red light, it will preserve six seconds prior and six seconds after the infraction. The video will show the vehicle and the signal.
When a driver receives a citation in the mail, he can use a code to access a Web site with the video.
Newberg has used the video camera at an intersection for two years. The video evidence convinces most drivers they were in the wrong.
"This works to relieve all doubt," said Sgt. Tim Weaver, Newberg police spokesman.
Salem has the system at two intersections. At one, the vast majority of citations go to drivers who don't stop before making a right turn from Commercial Street to Marion Street, said Salem police Sgt. Russ Morris.
"The technology is phenomenal," Morris said.
Beaverton will consider adding the right-turn violations if it's enough of a problem to justify the added expense of $1,750 a month to Redflex for each right-turn movement, Thompson said.
But Mike Staropoli, a criminal defense lawyer, is concerned that the city has already let the promise of increased revenue lead it down a path with no end.
"The envelope has been getting pressed further," he said. "Where or when does it stop?"
David R. Anderson; email@example.com