'Photo cop' bill debated

A "photo cop" plan, enabling authorities to use cameras to catch drivers running red lights or committing other traffic violations, was pushed Tuesday by police but was challenged by several critics during a legislative hearing.

North Las Vegas Police Chief Joseph Forti told the Assembly Transportation Committee that AB504 would allow his agency to install cameras at about a dozen of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

Under the bill, cameras would take photos of cars that fail to stop at a traffic light, which would then be sent to drivers along with a ticket. The cameras wouldn't take a photo of the driver.

"We notice there has been an increase in people running red lights. Obviously, we don't have enough police officers to place at every intersection," Forti said, adding, "The data is out there to support how serious the injuries are that occur in intersection accidents."

Forti said that at one intersection, a preliminary review showed there were over 70 traffic light violations per day.

But Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, D-Henderson, said she reviewed studies of 21 states that have traffic cameras, and nearly all saw increases in the number of car crashes at the intersections after the systems were installed. In Maryland, the number of car crashes nearly doubled, Spiegel said.

"I have not found any that have said there was a decrease in crashes," Spiegel said. "So could you please tell us where we are going to be getting these savings?"

Critics have said the move is an attempt to raise revenue, citing other states that collect as much as $400 per violation. But Trevor Hayes, representing North Las Vegas, said the penalty would be "equivalent to the lowest penalty of a parking ticket."

"A lot of people think the motive behind this is to garner revenue," Forti said. "I can assure you, we're not asking for this to be passed to ask for revenue."

Forti also said that instead of spending their time on traffic violations, police would be able to investigate more serious crimes such as murders, rapes and robberies.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, questioned the cost of the bill, and Forti said it would cost about $100,000 for each system.

Transportation Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, asked why the city had already chosen a vendor without completing a competitive bidding process, which it is required to do when the cost is greater than $25,000.

Forti responded that the decision took place before he became police chief. He said he believed the vendor was the sole provider, but lawmakers challenged that.

"That's not a good answer," Atkinson said. "Someone needs to answer that for this committee by Thursday."

Judy Cox of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada also challenged the bill, saying that it raised constitutional issues of due process and privacy.

"What this bill does here, is it takes away your right to face your accuser," said Assemblyman Jerry Claborn, D-Las Vegas.

The Automobile Association of America also opposed the bill, saying the enforcement system should include a photograph of the driver, to reduce the likelihood that registered owners of vehicles would be ticketed when someone else was driving their car.

Lawmakers in 2005 and 2007 shelved similar plans.

Richard Perkins, former state Assembly speaker, proposed an amendment to allow the state Department of Motor Vehicle to set up an electronic system to read license plates, to make sure vehicles are insured. The license plate system would be completely separate from the traffic light camera system proposed in AB504.

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