Tablet Local

Arlington residents at meeting call for banning red light cameras

One signature at a time, the Arlington Tea Party is rallying residents to unplug the city’s red-light cameras.

“This sells itself,” said Kelly Canon, Arlington Tea Party vice president.

“We’ve got a lot of people who believe [red-light cameras] don’t need to be in use.”

The group needs to collect at least 9,600 signatures from registered Arlington voters to force a referendum on the May ballot.

Several residents attending District 3 Councilman Robert Rivera’s town hall meeting Monday night also called for a ban, saying the red-light cameras do more to generate revenue for the city than they do to improve public safety.

Frances Gregory, who said she has paid for one violation and successfully fought another, called the $75 ticket a “a tax on people who are poor and can’t pay.” She said she supports putting the issue before voters next spring.

“If you are going to continue to do this, you need to put it on the ballot and let the people decide and not the City Council,” Gregory said.

Paul Buckley said he sees value in having cameras to deter drivers from blowing through a red light while going straight through an intersection but said issuing tickets on rolling right-hand turns is “ridiculous.”

“They may say an officer would give you a ticket, but I would say 100 percent of the time you would not get one,” Buckley said.

An Arlington police officer reviews all violations, which are recorded after a vehicle enters the intersection when the light is red, and has discretion on issuing a fine, said Steve Evans, the Police Department’s management services director. About 56 percent of the red-light camera violations are drivers making right-hand turns, he said.

Running red lights was listed as one of the top three complaints residents gave concerning traffic issues on the city’s Citizens Satisfaction Survey shortly before the council approved the camera contract.

But some residents at the town hall said the cameras cannot actually prevent drivers from running the light and at least one woman said her vehicle was rear-ended when she stopped on yellow to avoid getting ticketed at a camera-enforced intersection.

Arlington police officials say the cameras, which were placed at 19 intersections after being approved by the council in 2007, have reduced collisions at monitored intersections by as much as 75 percent.

The cameras record about 95,000 violations a year, Evans said. But only 17 percent of drivers who receive one ticket become repeat offenders, he said.

“Not only have these proven safer for the city, we’ve had the opportunity to change behavior,” Evans said.

Half the $75 fine goes to the state. The other half, after expenses, goes into city’s general fund and supports the police DWI Unit and about a dozen patrol officers. Overall, the cameras have generated more than $12 million for the city, officials say.

Rivera, who wants the city to ban the cameras, hosted the town hall to gather public input before the council’s next expected discussion on the topic, on Oct. 14.

Because the city has no way to force violators to pay the fines, Rivera said, it is unfair to those who voluntarily pay. Unpaid tickets from Arlington’s red-light cameras do not show up on the driver’s credit report and do not prevent drivers from obtaining a vehicle registration in Tarrant County.

With about $2.5 million in unpaid fines, Arlington had hoped to reach a deal this year with the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector’s office to begin withholding vehicle registrations from scofflaws. The council even voted in May on a proposed agreement to pay the county $5.24 for every delinquent fine that was cleared. But Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright ultimately rejected the deal.

Some residents said the council isn’t doing its job if it ignores residents’ demands to remove the cameras.

“You get rid of these cameras or next election we get rid of you,” one man said.

Rivera said he doesn’t expect the council to support a ban.

During an afternoon meeting last month, Mayor Robert Cluck and council members Kathryn Wilemon, Charlie Parker and Sheri Capehart said they want to keep the cameras, while council members Michael Glaspie, Jimmy Bennett, Robert Shepard and Lana Wolff did not express an opinion.

Patrick Jenkins was one of the few residents at the town hall meeting who supported keeping the cameras, even if some motorists choose not to pay.

“I think whenever you can save lives and reduce injuries and generate income for the city, that’s a no-brainer,” Jenkins said. “If a person commits an infraction driving, they should pay the penalty.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.