PHOENIX — The Paradise Valley police chief and a lawmaker from Scottsdale disagree about whether photo radar cameras should be allowed to check for speeders and red-light runners.
Gov. Katie Hobbs recently made it clear she agrees with the chief, and Arizona motorists are going to have to keep an eye out for those photo radar cameras for at least the foreseeable future.
Ditto red light cameras.
And that’s true even if their home communities don’t use the technology, as a number of Arizona cities and towns through which they may travel still do.
One week ago, Hobbs quashed the latest attempt by state lawmakers to end the technology that allows communities to use cameras to catch those who are ignoring posted speed limits or who proceed into intersections even after the light turns red.
“Research indicates that photo radar cameras demonstrate effectiveness in changing driver behavior and decreasing fatal accidents, especially in vulnerable areas like school zones,” she wrote in her veto message.
“This bill’s ban of photo radar would eliminate an important tool for law enforcement that allows for a more efficient allocation of limited police resources,” she said.
Approval of Senate Bill 1234 came over the objections of some public safety experts.
The biggest was from Freeman Carney, chief of the Paradise Valley Police Department, which claims to have been the first in the nation to use the technology. He said his town’s experience proves the speed cameras that are deployed along the major roads work.
Carney told lawmakers that in 1986, before the cameras were installed, the town had more than 400 accidents.
When the cameras went in, he said, the number of crashes was cut by 40%. And there were just 148 in 2021 despite increased traffic and things that didn’t exist when photo radar was introduced like drivers distracted by cell phones.
Carney also said residents in his community want it because it makes their main streets, used largely by those passing through, safer.
“Photo enforcement is not something a town does to their residents but for their residents,” he said in testifying against the measure.
The legislation against was advanced by Sen. Wendy Rogers who called it “an intrusion on our privacy.”
“It’s insidious,” the Flagstaff Republican said.
Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, had his own objections about having traffic laws effectively enforced by the private companies with whom communities contract. That enables the cities and towns to generate dollars without the costs of hiring more police.
“Not only does the system corrupt and rot law enforcement, it also corrupts our elections and our entire political process,” he said.
That’s based on the fact that 10% of every dollar generated in photo enforcement fines goes into the Citizens Clean Elections fund. And that provides campaign cash for statewide and legislative candidates who agree not to take private and special interest money.
But what Chaplik did not say is the same is true for citations issued by police officers: 10% of those fines, too, fund the public financing system.
Arizona used to have more widespread use of the technology.
When Democrat Janet Napolitano was governor, she signed a contract with Redflex to place 100 fixed and mobile speed cameras along state roads. Napolitano used estimated new revenues to close a state budget gap.
In 2010, after she became governor, Republican Jan Brewer killed the contract.
Three years later, Brewer signed legislation that restricted the ability of cities to set up speed and red-light cameras on state roads. And that was further cemented in 2016 when her successor, Republican Doug Ducey, inked his approval to legislation that removed existing cameras on those state roads.