The Power of Photo Enforcement
By Lou Blanas
Lou Blanas is the sheriff of Sacramento County. If you
would like to share your thoughts on any of the issues in this column,
you can reach President Blanas at cpoa @ cpoa.org.
"In our world of new law
enforcement responsibilities amidst dwindling budgets, red light camera
enforcement serves as a force multiplier. It compounds the effects of
traditional enforcement by giving law enforcement flexibility to assign
officers to other critical areas. Twenty-seven California jurisdictions
currently use this technology, and the California Peace Officers’
Association is sponsoring SB 780, a bill by Senator Tom Torlakson
(D-Antioch), that will enhance the effectiveness of photo red light
"According to the California
Highway Patrol, there were 26,181 collisions caused by red light law
violations in 2001, causing 15,537 injuries and 113 fatalities. Red
light running deaths are increasing three times faster than any other
roadway fatality cause and each death costs society $2.6 million.
Although traditional law enforcement techniques of observation, chase,
and citation are effective in apprehending a single driver, they are
the most efficient use of law enforcement resources, especially
post-9/11 when law enforcement faces demands than ever before.
Additionally, because photo enforcement is effective in changing driver
behavior and reducing traffic collisions, both fire and police
face reduced demand for collision scene mitigation. Red light photo
enforcement has a proven track record in deterring motorists from
running red lights. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
notes red light camera enforcement has resulted in a decrease in
violations and crashes that extends beyond monitored intersections into
"As the sheriff of Sacramento
County and current president of CPOA, I strongly support red light
camera enforcement. It has been very effective in Sacramento County. In
the last six months alone, we have realized an average monthly
of 34% in red light running violations from the previous year and an
average 27% decrease in crashes at each red light camera intersection.
These statistics are similar to other cities and counties that use this
technology. Last year, the independent California state auditor
red light running and photo enforcement. The audit concluded that red
light cameras have reduced red light running and also recommended
operational improvements to ensure more effective program control and
compliance with state law."
"SB 780 implements many of the
state auditor’s recommendations as well as provisions in the model law
by The National Committee on Uniform Laws and Traffic Ordinances
(NCUTLO). The legislation enhances local control over red light photo
enforcement programs and increases program effectiveness by providing
* Owner liability
* Rear cameras instead of front cameras
* A flat fee structure
* State-controlled site selection
* Strong government oversight and control of programs
* A $200 fine limit
* Civil violations
* No points assessments on driver licenses
* An administrative adjudication process"
"These changes, especially
owner liability, are far more effective in enforcing red light running
violations and changing driver behavior. California currently holds
drivers liable for red light running citations, yet driver liability
requires a difficult identification process and a loss in citations.
Only 23% of red light running violations were enforced according to
year’s audit findings."
"SB 780 requires
replacing front cameras
which take photos of the front of the and the driver with a rear camera
that captures the car, the limit line and the red signal. That way,
motorists’ privacy concerns will go away along with any doubt that the
car in question was going through the intersection on red. The cop in
each of us would like to catch and prosecute personally every red light
running violation. The reality of traditional enforcement is that it is
impossible at high volume, major intersections. Owner liability simply
lets us capture and prosecute more violations. This force multiplier
effect results in a greater deterrence level, fewer violations and
crashes and more lives saved. The majority of cities with photo
enforcement use owner liability and capture more violations. Research
shows consistent enforcement is a more effective deterrent than
of punishment. The goal of red light cameras is to change driver
behavior. Owner liability accomplishes that goal more fully without a
decrease in safety benefits."
S.B. 780 translates into greater public safety benefits. I hope you
contact your legislator and urge support of this important legislation."
End of Sheriff Blanas' message.