January 30, 2006

Traffic light, new camera, much action

Violators photographed


An unblinking, mechanized police sentry has documented more than 100 lawbreaking motorists rolling through red lights during its initial weeks of operation.

In November, workers installed a tall, rectangular gray contraption at the intersection of Hibiscus and Airport boulevards. On Dec. 9, the sensor-
activated camera started videotaping westbound vehicles that ignored stop signals.

Through Jan. 18, the most recent figures available, Melbourne's police camera captured 112 violators.

Sgt. Sean Riordan, traffic unit supervisor, said his office will begin mailing warning letters to offenders Feb. 6.

Riordan said he is impressed by the camera results.

"We're trying to reduce our crashes 5 percent this year," Riordan said. "We want people to understand that when you enter the city limits of Melbourne, we could be watching. More injuries are caused by red-light crashes than any other violations."

Peek Traffic did not charge the city to install the camera system. The Palmetto corporation is offering its equipment to various Florida cities and towns, hoping to get a leg up if the Florida Legislature lets municipalities issue traffic citations via photographic evidence.

A ticket for a red-light violation in Melbourne costs $186.50.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist ruled last summer that a law enforcement officer must observe a traffic violation before a ticket can be issued. But that could change. Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, has introduced legislation that would let local governments fine violators captured on camera.

Reagan's bill was assigned to the local government council last month.

Orlando police installed a Peek Traffic camera at Hiawassee Road and Raleigh Street, an intersection southeast of Orlovista. Since Dec. 1, the camera has recorded about 600 violators.

Opinions were mixed in the strip mall at the southeast corner of Hibiscus and Airport.

Shilpa Rashinkar, a clerk at Mini Mart Food & Beverage, hopes the cameras will slow vehicles and ward off collisions with homeless pedestrians.

"It's good. Many times, I have seen some of the beggars roam around out there," she said.

Pat Hartling, co-owner of Eastcoast Computer Services, called the camera a waste of money.

"I've been here since October, and I haven't seen one accident. And our door is always open, so we'd be looking outside to see," she said.

Last year, Melbourne police responded to nine accidents at Hibiscus and Airport. Hartling said the cameras would be better off at Babcock Street and Palm Bay Road, an intersection she labeled "horrendous."

Initially, Melbourne officials planned to mount the camera at U.S. 1 and Eau Gallie Boulevard, the city's most frequent traffic crash site. But that intersection is controlled by the Department of Transportation, which did not give permission for camera installation.

Riordan said Melbourne police will test the camera during a six- to 12-month trial run.

Contact Neale at 242-3638 or rneale@flatoday.net