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DPS suspends expansion of photo-radar program

The state Department of Public Safety has suspended expansion of the statewide photo-enforcement program.

Administrators made the decision in mid-January as a backlash from motorists manifested into legislation to alter or suspend the program.

Plans originally called for DPS to place 100 cameras around the state, with 60 in permanent locations and 40 in mobile vans.

Crews installed 36 fixed cameras and set up 42 mobile units before the suspension.

Lt. James Warriner said the agency had planned to roll out the program in two phases, but administrators put the second phase on hold to analyze locations for the remaining cameras. Warriner said most of the fixed location cameras are in place.

Warriner said the suspension gives the legislation a chance to work through the statehouse, although lawmakers have promised to tackle the state’s budget crisis before addressing other issues.

“Once we feel comfortable with that, we will move forward with Phase 2,” Warriner said. “The original goal was to get them out as quickly as possible, and I think that was kind of part of our problem that we rolled them out too fast, and it didn’t give us enough time to educate the public.”

Cameras snapped motorists nearly 700,000 times on Arizona highways during the program’s first five months, an average of 4,400 times per day. However, only a fraction of those motorists actually received tickets in the mail, and about 50,000 paid the fines.

Arizona has collected $7.5 million from fines, and Redflex, which installed the equipment, will get nearly $900,000.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Mesa, said it was prudent to halt the program.

“If we eventually end the program on the highways, it’ll be less for them to disassemble,” he said. “I think there’s a clear majority to end photo radar on the highways because of the unscientific and abusive way that it was implemented: primarily to raise money and not promote safety.”

Gov. Jan Brewer hasn’t taken a position on photo enforcement, other than to say it is “inherently wrong” to use law enforcement to generate revenue.

Warriner said public frustration had nothing to do with the department’s decision. The cameras are producing results in the form of fewer fatalities, he said.

“I think if you go out on the freeway system and travel it at all, you’ve seen a real change in driving behavior,” he said. “Have (the cameras) accomplished what we’re looking for? Absolutely.”

Lawmakers, with the support of former Gov. Janet Napolitano, created the system last year. Similar programs have existed along Phoenix-area streets in the Valley since the late 1980s.

Legislators allotted $20 million for DPS to purchase and install the equipment. Warriner said some of that money remained and was earmarked for use on future photo-enforcement campaigns. Warriner said that some of the remaining cameras could take the form of red-light cameras along two-lane highways such as Arizona 303 in the West Valley.

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