"Our cameras only snap a photograph if the light is red. They lie dormant in the yellow phase," adds Vaitheeswaran, who notes the systems are not connected to traffic lights and the company does not influence yellow light times. "All we need to know is when the light turns red and when it stops turning red," she explains.
The public also needs to know the review process for collected data, adds Vaitheeswaran. "People see these cameras and think they just flash and spit out a ticket, but that couldn't be further from the truth," she says. "This is more scrutinized than when a sole officer issues a ticket."
Because violation packages must hold up in court, three separate Redflex violation experts examine each one, she explains. The first screening process looks at whether the license plate is visible and determines whether the package has violation integrity. The second examination considers whether the incident is a violation according to that city's ordinance. The third screening looks up Department of Motor Vehicles records to cross check vehicle make and model. The company flags the package then sends it to the police department for approval, where the approving officer puts his electronic signature on it saying "Yes, this is a violation" or "No, it should be disregarded."
Naperville PD reviews the tickets that come before them very carefully, says Lalvani. "We don't just write a million tickets and try to raise money," she says, noting strict adherence to a review policy has helped calm citizen fears.
Opponents of photo enforcement question whether police review actually occurs. Shawn Dow, chairman of Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, asks how short-staffed agencies have the manpower to designate someone to review tickets each day. But as Martin points out, his officers rarely see more than 20 tickets in a single day, so it's not hard to keep up.
Citizens may have heard that photo enforcement is simply a means to make money, so it's important for agencies to inform them of where the money goes and why this is not the case, adds Vaitheeswaran.
"In many areas, camera programs have not produced large financial windfalls. Many camera programs do not turn profits at all," reports the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running. Often revenues only cover program costs, while some programs even lose money, according to the organization.
While a portion of the funds goes to Redflex to recoup administrative and maintenance costs, cities should have a plan for where other revenue may go. Redflex urges clients to tackle the revenue issue head-on. Communities can earmark funds for DUI task forces, highway safety improvements and more. This makes the systems more palatable to many individuals who see the revenue put to good use. Texas, for example, used its money to create a state trauma fund. "There are many great things that can be done," Vaitheeswaran says. "Don't sidestep the revenue issue. Be up front and say, 'Yes, it can generate revenue, and here's how that money will be used.' "
She also notes that as people become aware of the systems, the number of violations decrease and so does revenue. It's not something an agency can count on to be a certain amount every year, she says.
But Kandaris is not convinced. He worries with states and local communities facing budget shortfalls, photo enforcement may be viewed as a way to make money in tough economic times. "Then it's like a drug," he says. "The more they get, the more they want it." A community might make $50,000 off two cameras and think if they double the number they'll make twice as much, and that worries him because it becomes less about public safety and more about generating revenue.
But public safety, say proponents of these systems and those with successful photo enforcement programs in place, is the name of the game. After a 30-day warning period starting January 1, the City of Naperville began issuing $100 fines to red light runners caught on camera. Since then they've already noticed a reduction in red light running and crashes at that particular intersection. And that, not revenue, was their primary motivation for installing the cameras, says Lalvani. "If people don't break the law, the city doesn't make any money," she says. "But that doesn't matter to us, because our primary goal is modifying driver behavior. We want the streets of Naperville to be safe."