September 5, 2011

Arlington considers joining program to collect red-light camera fines

Arlington considers a program to raise collections.

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ARLINGTON -- Being in front of a camera is an everyday event for Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck.

It typically doesn't cost him $75, though.

Earlier this year, Cluck joined more than 300,000 others who have had their photos snapped since June 2007 by Arlington's red-light cameras, a program the mayor voted for and that has generated more than $6.7 million for the city.

"When I got mine, I was sure I hadn't run the red light," Cluck said. Then he watched the online video that the city sent him a link to that clearly showed his vehicle not coming to a complete stop before making a right turn at Cooper and Main streets as he drove to City Hall.

"There's no question I ran it. There wasn't even brake lights on."

Cluck paid his $75 fine, but many people don't. Of the 91,265 violations issued between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010, one-third either ignored the violation notice or failed to pay the full fine, said Steve Evans, the Arlington Police Department's management services director. Under a proposed program, red-light runners would not be allowed to renew their vehicle registration until they paid up.

Scofflaw program

Because a red-light camera ticket is a civil violation, motorists don't have to fear being arrested on warrants as they would if they ignored other traffic tickets. Although unpaid fines are sent to a collection agency, Arlington loses out on millions of dollars when people don't pay.

"I don't have an immediate hammer I can take to compel you to pay," Evans said of the civil penalty.

That could soon change. The city is considering partnering with the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector's office to participate in the state's scofflaw program, which would prevent motorists from renewing their vehicle registration if they have an unpaid red-light camera ticket.

Other Tarrant County cities, including Haltom City and Richland Hills, are looking into the program, according to their city websites. Dallas County already participates.

Arlington still needs City Council approval to participate in the scofflaw program. Also this fall, the council will review results of the city's first audit of the red-light camera program. Arlington has a contract with American Traffic Solutions until 2027.

The city collects revenue on about 18 percent of the 30,000 or so delinquent red-light camera tickets that are referred to a collection agency, Evans said.

Funded DWI unit

Arlington's profit from red-light cameras has funded the Police Department's DWI unit for the past three years, which has nearly 200 drunken-driving arrests annually, Evans said. The state collects half of cities' red-light camera proceeds to fund regional trauma centers.

Though Arlington has increased the number of monitored intersections from 17 to 20 this year, city officials say they are seeing a decrease in violations either because people have changed their driving habits or are driving less because of the economy. In fiscal 2009, Arlington issued 94,767 tickets, but the city projects only 85,650 this year, Evans said.

The Texas Transportation Institute, a research arm of the Texas A&M University System, released a study last month that reported a 67 percent reduction in collisions at intersections where red-light cameras had been installed for a year.

"The department is pleased that we're achieving the objectives of reducing red-light running at major intersections and significantly reducing accidents," Evans said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

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