Under the Lens
Life's all about the commute.
"Think about how you spend your day," says APD spokesperson John Walsh. "On a bus, walking, operating a motor vehicle, as a passenger." Don't kid yourself, he adds. Albuquerque wants traffic enforcement because it wants a safe commute. The most common complaints to APD concern traffic accidents and violators of traffic laws. "Think about the hundreds and hundreds of violations that occur on a momentary basis."
To date, Albuquerque has 12 intersections staffed with cameras, ticketing drivers and netting millions of dollars. To achieve the same around-the-clock effect with officers would require 12 per intersection. That's 144 full-time cops working solely on traffic and only in those intersections. The cameras are a huge savings on manpower, Walsh says.
Unlike humans, the cameras snap pictures of speeders and light-runners constantly—and arbitrarily. The company that installed the cameras, Redflex of Scottsdale, Ariz., takes a first crack at reviewing the tickets. The company weeds out the plates that can't be read because of obstructions, weather or blurriness. Then an APD officer looks at the remaining images and issues tickets.
JW Madison got a ticket for speeding on Lead in the fall and wrote the Alibi a letter about it. The camera's blind justice is almost too even-handed, he said in an interview last week. "If there's a cop who's got it in for you, this kind of protects you," he says. At the same time, an officer has the ability to be discriminating, to look at a situation and make a decision about what's dangerous.
Madison always drives to make the next green light, he says. He'll even admit to speeding that day down Lead. "I was guilty as hell," he says, snapped by a camera going 43 miles an hour in a 30 zone. But did he deserve a $150 ticket? "The good thing is they remove the judgment of individual cops on the scene," he says. "The bad thing is they remove the judgment of individual cops on the scene."
Madison, like many of those ticketed in Albuquerque, appealed his ticket with a hearing officer. He wasn't successful.
Lacresia Rivera works at the Office of Boards and Commissions where the hearings are held. She estimates that last year there were around 1,800 or 1,900 hearings scheduled. Since the red-light program began, the office has been inundated with requests for hearings, she says. "This is so new to us. We're in the learning curve ourselves."
Gloria Kelley, an Alibi classified account executive, got two tickets two days in a row. One rings up a bill of $250 for speeding and running a red. The other is a tab of $150 for speeding. The fines seem steep to Kelley. "I've never been cited by a camera," she says, "so this is all new to me, and I'm just going to go fight it." The experience has been an eye-opener, she says, making her more conscious of the lenses trained on citizens in the modern age. "It makes me more aware of how much we really are being watched by cameras, not just for speeding, but cameras everywhere."