Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Red-light cameras store video, too

Some local officials say that threatens civil liberties

Michael Downing, supervisor of the Tucson office of American Traffic Solutions, manages a computer and two cameras to record the speed of vehicles passing by on South Nogales Highway near West Valencia Road in this photo taken in August 2007.

Michael Downing, supervisor of the Tucson office of American Traffic Solutions, manages a computer and two cameras to record the speed of vehicles passing by on South Nogales Highway near West Valencia Road in this photo taken in August 2007.

Pima County officials will proceed with a trial camera program for speed enforcement despite concerns by some area and state elected officials that they can be used as surveillance systems and pose a threat to civil liberties.

The roadway camera system Pima County will begin testing next month in unincorporated areas will be able to continuously record passing traffic in video that can be retained for 30 days for use by law enforcement for violations other than speeding.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors earlier this month voted 3-2 to hire the Scottsdale-based American Traffic Solutions Inc.for a $1.5 million pilot project for 10 stationary camera locations and another 10 mobile ones.

The $1.5 million program, which would be run by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, would be similar to the Tucson Police Department’s and state Department of Public Safety’s efforts to capture images of license plates of vehicles and of drivers who run red lights or exceed speed limits.

The camera systems have had an impact in reducing crashes along stretches of highway where they are located, DPS officials have said.

Republican Pima County Supervisors Ray Carroll and Ann Day earlier this month voted against deploying the camera system in unincorporated areas.

“This is about a revenue stream they are looking to tap into,” Carroll said last week, reiterating his opposition to the program.

Carroll said he is concerned that such camera programs can present a threat to privacy and civil liberties.

“What’s next – Big Brother’s eye in the sky?” he asked.

Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, is vice chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which heard for the first time last week that the DPS’ contracted system had video image storage capabilities.

“This is a creepy, slippery slope to government intrusion into every aspect of our lives,” Antenori said Friday.

The House committee endorsed a bill after Thursday’s testimony to ban the use of speed cameras on state highways.

Tucson Councilwoman Karin Uhlich also has concerns about the city’s red light enforcement camera system, which has a contract with the same firm the county recently hired and would record videos nonstop.

“We approved a program with the cameras activated only for violations,” Uhlich said Wednesday.

Uhlich said she had “no doubt these cameras have saved lives” by altering motorists’ behaviors.

But she said, “If there are cameras running full time, we have to revisit the issue.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elías voted in favor of the pilot program, as did fellow board Democrats Sharon Bronson and Ramón Valadez.

“There are some questions now that need to be answered,” Elías said Tuesday.

Lindy Funkhauser, a deputy county administrator who is liaison with the Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday he had heard from company officials the camera system would record all vehicles passing stationary camera positions.

“I specifically asked if you can see the license plate or the driver,” Funkhauser said. “The answer was ‘no.’ ”

Company spokesman Josh Weiss said Wednesday video images of vehicles passing camera locations are digitally retained on site for two to four weeks.

The video images are low resolution and are intended to provide additional “context” for law enforcement investigating incidents such as accidents, Weiss said.

Speed enforcement cameras are shown on a street in north Scottsdale.

Speed enforcement cameras are shown on a street in north Scottsdale.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service