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Old 11-28-2007, 08:00 AM   #1
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Catches on rise with Houston's additional red-light cams

The number of motorists nabbed by the city's red-light cameras spiked dramatically last month after the Houston Police Department added 20 locations and began citing illegal turns, records show.

The department noted about 27,000 violations last month, more than twice the total in September, according to a review of camera data released to the Houston Chronicle.

The 130 percent increase from September to October was not too much of a surprise, police say, because the state began requiring citations for illegal turns and because the new cameras went up at the city's busiest intersections.

"I expected an increase," said Martha Montalvo, an executive assistant chief who oversees officers tracking the program. "I had no idea what the increase was going to be."

The additional citations reversed what had been a downward trend for the cameras in recent months, perhaps evidence that the public was being more careful when approaching intersections.

The program, which has caused controversy among privacy advocates and others who question the cameras' efficacy, began in September 2006 with 10 locations. The department gradually increased the number of cameras to 50 in May.

Until now, the number of $75 violations had been decreasing. There were 14,808 violations in May, for example, but only 11,767 in September a 20 percent reduction.

The department in late August announced plans to install the additional 20 cameras to alternative approaches at intersections already being monitored. They began noting violations at them in October.

The move to add cameras coincided with a new state law requiring the city to set aside half its profits from the program to a fund for regional trauma centers in Texas.

Joseph Fenninger, HPD's chief financial officer, originally estimated that the city would have to send $3.5 million to the trauma fund next fall.

He said Tuesday that the new cameras would change those estimates, but he was hesitant to do so until more time had passed.

"There might be cycles to this. I don't know," said Fenninger, who tracks the monthly violations so he can manage the department's budget. "We're probably going to know more as time goes by and we see what kind of patterns we get."

The increase in citations, which presumably will bring in millions of dollars to city coffers, could fuel new complaints that the camera program is intended to generate revenue.

"It's about making money. It's very clear to me it's so obvious," said Randall Kallinen, a local civil rights lawyer. "It's just a revenue machine."

The new law, authored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, went into effect in September. It also required the city to define a violation based on the Transportation Code, which states that motorists must stop at a traffic signal and yield to cross traffic before making a right-hand turn on red.

The City Council changed the red-light ordinance before the law took effect. Police began issuing illegal-turn citations in October, after a monthlong grace period for motorists.

Police say about 3,600 turn violations were noted in October. The remaining increase came from the new locations, which accounted for nearly half the 27,000.

The new locations were chosen because they are busy. The average per-camera citation total for the original 50 locations was 290 in October. But the new cameras accounted for about 635 citations per approach, on average, according to the data.

Police officials dismiss any suggestion that the cameras were installed to replace money being lost because of the new state law.

Montalvo said the department added the extra cameras because certain intersections still were seeing a lot of violations, even with the intense media publicity about the program.

"I never ever thought about those things," Montalvo said. "The whole purpose of the other approaches was to make people aware that their safety is important."

For example, Montalvo said, the department is planning to work with area school districts and the Metropolitan Transit Authority to incorporate red-light videos and literature into their training programs.

"Our whole goal is to try to change behavior," she said.
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Old 11-28-2007, 08:27 AM   #2
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Until now, the number of $75 violations had been decreasing. There were 14,808 violations in May, for example, but only 11,767 in September — a 20 percent reduction.

tells me it's working, i know i'm more cautious at the lights, esp. since 2 streets near my house and work are camered up.
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Old 11-28-2007, 10:56 PM   #3
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^No kidding i guess like everything else in life it has its good and its bad. Good because its making people more cautious at lights but then again its bad cause i've been one of those ticketees lol
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Old 11-28-2007, 11:02 PM   #4
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Those lights are up and working all the way down 1960- I'm sure I had my picture taken at least ten times today. B
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Old 11-28-2007, 11:10 PM   #5
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Those lights are up and working all the way down 1960- I'm sure I had my picture taken at least ten times today. B
camerahoochy!...
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Old 11-28-2007, 11:11 PM   #6
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haha! I didn't ask for it! But that's funny, right there. I don't care who you are.
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