Waiting For the Light to Change
Red-light cameras dominate the Council
So we shouldn't object to electronic surveillance unless we want to break the law, right? When it comes to red-light cameras, Albuquerque hasn't really made up its mind.
At the May 7 meeting, city councilors postponed votes on the cameras mounted at intersections around town to photograph the license plates of red-light runners. Debate centered on Councilor Ken Sanchez' bill to reduce fines for those caught by the cameras, one of several related bills on the agenda.
Sanchez said the program generated $6,395,053 between June 2005 and January 2007. He said, "This issue should be about public safety, not about generating revenues for the city." He said lowering the fines to $89 for a first offense, $150 for a second and $250 for a third would offset the costs of the program and not "stick it to taxpayers."
Councilor Michael Cadigan said he thought $89 was too high and that $50 was enough to get somebody's attention. Councilor Sally Mayer said she liked the $100 penalty. Cadigan asked City Attorney Bob White whether Redflex, the company that supplies the cameras and administers the program, had any financial interest in the bills. White said Redflex got an $18 flat fee for each citation and a percentage of the fine above that.
Frequent speaker Silvio Dell'Angela opposed reducing fines, saying, "You kill people or you don't kill people." Former policeman Mark Bralley said the Council didn't have the authority, by state law, to create a legal system with its own judicial process.
Councilor Craig Loy, a former policeman, spoke at length and heatedly. He said the proposed reduced fines made running three red lights in 12 months less expensive than one violation of a handicapped parking space. Cadigan said the question was, what does it take to change behavior? If seriousness were the measure of fines, he said, running a red light should cost $10,000. Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Perlman recited a list of red-light fines from other cities, starting with the most expensive, Los Angeles' $498 fine for a first violation. He said other cities' citations were dropping but not Albuquerque's. Cadigan asked how many intersections in other cities had red-light cameras. Perlman said the figures referred to both camera and officer citations.
Councilor Martin Heinrich said councilors agreed on many points, but there were multiple variables going on with the issue. He called for a postponement, which passed 7-2. Councilor Brad Winter also deferred his bill setting up an Office of Hearings independent of both the administration and the Council. He called on White to discuss the effect of the red-light citations. White said the hearing process was overwhelmed. Speaking of the percentage of people who requested a hearing on their red-light citations, White said, "We thought we'd have two to five percent ... but we have 10 percent."