Highway cameras could catch more than speeders - East Valley Tribune: News

Highway cameras could catch more than speeders

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Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2007 1:09 pm | Updated: 7:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Automated cameras that the state Department of Public Safety wants to deploy along some Arizona highways could catch more than speeders.

Companies bidding for a state contract to supply and run sensor-triggored camera systems are being told to include features that would help spot stolen vehicles and pass the information to law enforcement.

The requirements are included in a DPS request-for-proposals reviewed by The Associated Press under a public records request.

One provision requires that state police be given photos of all speeding vehicles with fictitious, altered or suspended plates. It also requires immediate notification if a stolen vehicle is spotted.

Another provision requires contractors to “provide computer queries” when required for “any law enforcement purpose as requested by the DPS designee.”

The contractor also would have to be able to provide a method for retrieving information on “any photographed vehicle upon request.”

The cameras would be mounted in vehicles and deployed in various locations around the state.

A DPS spokesman, Lt. Bob Ticer, said secrecy requirements for pending state procurement matters prevented him from commenting on specific provisions in the request for proposals.

However, an expert on traffic enforcement technology said the computerized technology required for automated speed enforcement cameras lends itself to a growing list of possible law enforcement uses.

Digital images and data from speed camera systems could be interfaced with other law-enforcement information, such as notifications of stolen vehicles and lists of people sought on outstanding court warrants, said Dennis Duane Bryde, a retired Michigan State University professor who now trains law enforcement officers.

“You may in fact tie it together. It could be used as a law enforcement tool,” he said. “Once that databank is generated, I’m certain that the law enforcement community would want it.”

Some state legislators have expressed unease about using speed enforcement cameras, with one objection being that cameras — unlike officers — can’t apprehend criminal fugitives and drunk drivers among drivers being cited for speeding.

Work on the camera project comes in the wake of DPS’ deployment of another new crime-fighting technological tool. Some DPS patrol cars on highways between Phoenix and the U.S.-Mexico border are now equipped with license plate scanners to check for stolen vehicles.

Ticer said Friday that DPS was still reviewing proposals submitted by a July 16 deadline. He previously declined to say how many responses were submitted or to identify the bidders.

DPS began developing the camera project earlier this year at the direction of Gov. Janet Napolitano. She cited reduced speeding and accident rates on a portion of the State Route 101 freeway in Scottsdale that was monitored by speed cameras placed there by a contractor for the city of Scottsdale.

Like the program in Scottsdale, the DPS pilot program would have sensor-triggered cameras take digital pictures of vehicles violating the speed limit. Information from the resulting photos of drivers and vehicle license plates would be cross-checked against Motor Vehicle Division records and provide the basis for speeding citations sent to vehicle owners.

The cameras would be rotated among locations selected by DPS based upon such factors as traffic information, collision rates, population density and prevalence of red-light running and aggressive driving.

A separate, later phase could expand the speed enforcement program to place cameras along Phoenix-area freeways, a DPS commander has said.

Under options laid out for potential bidders for the pilot project, the contractor or the DPS would provide personnel to drive the marked white vans or sport utility vehicles and operate the camera systems.

A DPS employee would review each citation and associated photographs before a ticket is issued. Citations wouldn’t be sent in instances involving mismatches of drivers or vehicles, the request for proposal stated.

A civil liberties advocate said use of traffic camera systems have generally been upheld by courts and called Arizona’s planned deployment “part of the growing government surveillance of everybody’s activities.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona’s concerns about the system will be alleviated as long as vehicle owners have a way to prove they weren’t driving when their vehicle was photographed speeding, said Executive Director Alessandra Meetze.

Bryde, a former state trooper, city police officer and municipal public safety director, said one constraint on increased use of speed-enforcement cameras may come from within government.

Off-duty law enforcement officers and even some elected officials pulled over for speeding often are accorded “professional courtesy” and given informal warnings, but that wouldn’t happen under an automated system, Bryde said.

“With outside companies just cranking these things out, they’re not making a distinction,” Bryde said.

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