Mayor Campana

Traffic Cameras: The Eyes That Don’t Blink

"Photo Radar gets our officers back into the neighborhoods where they’re really needed. Our streets are safer, and our community has the benefit of more police protection. This type of program allows cities to be efficient with limited resources and provide the best service possible."
-Mayor Campana

If your community is like mine, traffic safety is on the minds of your citizens. Scottsdale, Arizona is no different with collision numbers growing at a steady six percent each year since 1991 (36 percent over 6 years). Our community could not permit that trend to continue nor could it afford to pay for the number of officers required to make a difference.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater brought to our attention that over 8,100 people died in intersection-related crashes in 1996. Citing a national public opinion poll revealing widespread support (65 percent) for automated red light enforcement, he called for states to adopt laws enabling cities to use cameras for red light enforcement.

Traditional Approaches to the Problem

In 1994, Scottsdale doubled the number of traffic enforcement officers by adding a second squad of six traffic officers at an initial annual cost of $700,000. Those officers conducted a number of traffic safety programs. DUI arrests doubled in the first year, and speed citations rose by 42 percent.

Unfortunately, after a full year of deployment and almost three quarters of a million dollars, collisions rose another six percent. The city learned that adding officers and throwing money at a problem is not necessarily the answer.

At the same time, photo radar had been successfully operating in our neighboring community of Paradise Valley since 1986. National City, California, and many other cities have experienced up to a 40 percent reduction in collisions in the first five years of deployment of the technology.

The Issues

Big Brother, privacy, and arguments that the program is simply designed to produce revenue are common themes from detractors and are without merit. However, perception is reality, and some will be passionate about the issues. Our responsibility is to manage the program with integrity while communicating the real issue: safety. Photo radar is not about writing citations. When passionate objections of "Big Brother" are voiced, softening the message looks attractive.

Some communities place warning signs immediately prior to enforcement vehicles, which diminishes deterrent value. In contrast, Scottsdale has placed warning signs at every point of entry into our city.

Some municipalities have approached photo radar with a pilot program. However, the term "pilot" implies that community leaders are not sure about the effectiveness of the technology, and this will embolden detractors.

Regarding revenue, Scottsdale completed its first year of using traffic cameras with a surplus of $363,000 after expenses. However, apart from photo enforcement, officers reported fewer violations and wrote fewer citations that year, and court revenue fell by $330,000.

A halfhearted approach will probably fail. It must be clear that there is no right to speed or run red lights.

Focus on Safety

In December 1996 the Scottsdale Police Department embarked on a Photo Radar and Red Light Camera program called "Focus on Safety." The city entered into a contract with a vendor to provide three speed cameras and three sets of red light cameras to be rotated among nine intersections. The program had three components:

  • awareness;
  • education; and
  • enforcement.

Selecting a Program Manager

The program manager needs skills in project management, contracts, and the media. The manager also has to coordinate legal, legislative, and internal issues.

A mid-level manager with the necessary experience, training, and public-speaking skills is ideal.

Awareness and Education

Public awareness and education are critical. An adequate budget to fund an education campaign is essential to keep your safety message alive. Our efforts included:

  • over 6,000 warning letters;
  • utility billing fliers;
  • radio public service announcements;
  • media releases/appearances;
  • public-speaking engagements;
  • theater slides;
  • posters;
  • radio talk shows; and
  • cable television.

In spite of these efforts, history tells us that two or three percent of drivers will continue to drive in a manner that endangers others. Those drivers will help partially fund the program. As the majority of drivers are more cautious, collisions will be reduced and more people will support the program.

Although you can expect the media to sensationalize the issues, they can also provide the most effective means of communicating your safety message.

Results and Public Support

In 1997, the trend of rising collisions in Scottsdale was neutralized and reversed. Collisions had a 4 percent actual reduction citywide and a 20 percent actual reduction in high collision areas (24 percent under the prediction). And, this reduction has been sustained into 1998.

We began the program with 59 percent public support. At the end of the first year, support climbed to 74 percent, rising to 79 percent when dissenters were told of the first year collision reductions.

Available Technology

All speed cameras use a form of Doppler radar to measure speed. Red light camera systems more clearly define the vendors. All are interfaced with a computer and a pair of cameras. One camera photographs the vehicle and red signal prior to entering an intersection with all pertinent data for prosecution. The second photo depicts the vehicle after it has entered against the red signal.

One vendor utilizes a sensor array imbedded in the roadway measuring speed within one mile per hour through a time/distance calculation. The computer counts cars to take a second photograph at a specific point, should that option be required.

Another vendor utilizes two loops imbedded in the roadway measuring speed within three miles per hour. The first camera taking a photo causes the second camera to respond as needed.

Another vendor with newly available technology uses Doppler radar to monitor speed within one mile per hour of vehicles approaching an intersection. If the vehicle is traveling at a speed too great to stop for the signal, the cameras are activated. The green light for opposing traffic is delayed as long as necessary to permit the violator to safely clear the intersection. An audible warning to pedestrians is an optional feature of the system.


With a thoughtful approach and growing public support, automated enforcement can be a powerful tool to make urban roadways safer while being responsible with taxpayer dollars. As municipal budgets are stretched, innovative approaches are needed to meet the needs of our citizens. This technology is worthy of serious consideration.

Contact: Lt. Mike Keeley, Commander, Traffic Enforcement Division, Scottsdale Police Department, 602/994-2573.

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