Highway patrol groups are denouncing Scottsdale’s proposal to put photo radar on Loop 101, saying the city is cherry picking easy targets to make money.
Groups from the Arizona Department of Public Safety say they fear photo radar will produce lots of tickets — but not safer driving. They say Arizona needs to boost DPS funding so it can afford more officers and pay them higher wages.
“It’s a huge disservice to the people of Arizona,” said Sgt. Bill Whalen, chairman of the 300-member Arizona State Troopers Council. “If they were truly concerned about public safety, they would have adequate staffing to patrol the freeways.”
A DPS official, however, said the criticism is little more than a political maneuver to prevent officers from being replaced by machines.
DPS staffing shortages affect communities across the state, said agency spokesman Frank Valenzuela, but only Scottsdale has proposed such an extensive effort to deal with the problem.
“It’s ridiculous to zero in on a municipality that’s trying to do something,” Valenzuela said. “It’s wrong to throw stones at it.”
DPS agrees photo radar has limitations and admits the agency is understaffed. But the agency sees photo radar as a way to supplement enforcement efforts and to free officers for other calls.
Scottsdale is exploring photo radar because its stretch of Loop 101 is notorious for excessive speed, collisions and fatalities. The city expects to operate photo radar in two to three months if there are no problems.
The city dismissed Whalen’s claim that it is using photo radar as a revenue source. The city’s existing photo radar program has lost money two years in a row and has made $245,364 in the last four years. The city’s goal is to break even financially.
Officials also point to the city’s track record with photo radar. Since photo radar was implemented in 1997, crashes on city streets rose 1 percent. In the same time, the city grew 20 percent.
Most DPS officers see little benefit from photo radar, said officer Andy Swann, president of the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona. The 1,000-member group hasn’t taken a poll or a formal position, but Swann said nearly all officers he knows are against photo radar on freeways.
Only personal contact can establish if a driver is drunk, reckless or a fugitive, Swann said. Photo radar will do nothing to get those drivers off the highway.
Drivers who get caught in photo radar often don’t know it until they get a ticket, Swann said. Drivers are more likely to slow down if they are caught immediately and deal face-to-face with an officer.
Swann and Whalen said they fear photo radar could keep the state from adding more officers. The Valley probably needs 150 to 200 new officers and higher pay to keep them from going to other agencies, Swann said.
“If people think a camera is doing the job, they’re going to be a lot less likely to hire officers,” Swann said. “It really is not an adequate substitute to having police officers.”
Scottsdale police said their photo radar proposal is an attempt to reduce crashes at a time when no other solutions seem likely.
“If it can address issues on the 101, than it certainly deserves to be looked at,” said Sgt. Doug Dirren.