Crestwood board votes 4-2 not to pursue work session to discuss red-light cameras

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen last week voted against conducting a work session to further discuss red-light cameras.

The board’s vote came after a presentation by Police Chief Michael Paillou in which he recommended aldermen consider a future work session with representatives of American Traffic Solutions Inc. to discuss red-light cameras. The city’s Police Board recommended in June the red-light camera issue be moved forward for consideration by the Board of Aldermen.

But Ward 4 Alderman Deborah Beezley’s motion to conduct the work session, seconded by Ward 4 Alderman John Foote, was defeated 4-2. Opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach, Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan, Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink and Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild.

Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel and Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel were absent from the July 28 meeting.

The issue of red-light cameras is not new and first was discussed by aldermen more than two years ago.

On March 13, 2007, representatives of American Traffic Solutions meet with aldermen during a work session to discuss red-light cameras, but the issue was not pursued further. Earlier this year, a Revenue Committee of residents appointed to study ways of enhancing city revenue included in its final recommendations a proposal that al-dermen “review red-light cameras and determine whether such devices should be implemented in the city of Crest-wood.”

During his presentation last week, Paillou said, “… Red-light cameras are just another advancement in technology to keep up with our changing times. I am not an expert in this field, and I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field.

“I will concede that an argument can be made for either side of many of the issues revolving around this technology. I’ve read a bunch of it. You can make an argument for what you want to make an argument for. That is not my intention,” he said.

The police chief noted the number commissioned officers in his department was reduced from 38 to 35 in 2002. The department today has 28 commissioned officers and he is projecting that number will drop to 26 next year.

“Red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,” he said. “Locally, the Creve Coeur Police Department re-ported a 15-percent reduction in collisions during a period of September 2006 through September of 2008 with the installation of their red-light camera safety program … My objective tonight is to provide the Board of Aldermen with information which highlights some advantages of utilizing red-light camera technology to offset our reductions in police personnel, allowing us to maintain and possibly improve our public safety in the city of Crestwood … At the end of this presentation, you’ll be asked to decide if you wish to move forward and seek a work session with American Traffic Solutions to further explore this topic. Again, that’s my only objective tonight and the only thing I will ask of the Board of Aldermen.”

During a “soft survey” conducted during a more than two-week period in March, his officers counted 169 red-light violations within Crestwood, Paillou said.

“As we got into this project, we did a very soft survey from March 14 until March 30 where we asked our patrol officers and our traffic officers to go out to selected intersections, take absolutely no enforcement action, sit back and count violations,” he said. “I would like to make it perfectly clear there was no scientific method to this … During this period, we documented 169 violations. Again, there was no enforcement action taken because that was not the officers’ mission at the time.”

If a photo-enforcement program were to be initiated, the cost of running a red light would be $100, Paillou said, noting the violation would be similar to receiving a parking ticket. Furthermore, the cost to the city for the program would be minimal.

“… The offense is much like a parking tag (ticket). It is against the vehicle, not the driver of the vehicle … That is where we’re going with this type of safety program, which brings us to this: Photo enforcement is a violator-funded safety program. This program will not cost the city of Crestwood a dime in cash flow going out …”

Some costs would be incurred because officers would be required to review the violations before tickets are issued, but he said, “We have that now and we would have that if our officers were actually stopping the cars and writing the summonses … The owner of the car will get a summons for $100. There’s no cost costs associated with this fee. Therefore, because it is not a moving violation against the driver, it’s against the vehicle itself. There are no DOR (Department of Revenue) points assessed. With no DOR points, no risk of insurance going up. Hence, how many people are truly going to hire an attorney to fight this violation? It is more violator friendly than if one of my officers stopped you for running that red light.”

A red-light camera program also would provide numerous other advantages, including what Paillou termed the “halo effect.”

“Although we went into this as strictly by its name — a red-light camera safety program — it’s focus is on red lights. There’s other advantages. One is the halo effect. What is the halo effect? The halo effect basically is as you go into a photo-enforcement zone, you see the big sign saying photo-enforcement zone, you’re going to start paying attention to your overall driving habits. So that’s other violations. Use of directional signals. Following too close. Lane-changing, et cetera.

“We’re trying to change the behavior of the drivers, not just getting them to stop for red lights … If we can get people attuned to their driving in this day and age with cell phones, texting, everything that we all see out there and I’ve heard the majority of the people I come into contact with complain about, if we can get people re-attuned to their driving habits while driving through the city of Crestwood, we will have the result of a summer community. That is where we’re going big picture with this.”

Furthermore, a red-light camera program would assist officers in accident reconstruction and obtaining witness statements and physical evidence.

“… This technology, the video-enforced intersections have a 24-hour video loop where we can recapture, go right back in before that accident and we can see again objectively exactly what happened with the vehicles involved in these traffic accidents … The 24-hour loop capability will give us a better, more objective way to look at these accidents and determine the real cause and determine who’s truly responsible for the accident,” he said.

“This leads into criminal investigations. The United States is a very mobile society. We have been since the days of Bonnie and Clyde. I watched that movie last night. It’s pretty cool. Last year, we had our … manslaughter situation at Starbucks. Had we had a photo-enforced intersection east of Old Sappington Road on Watson Road, we would have had that Georgia license plate within minutes of the incident. Having that knowledge, we could have broadcast it to all law enforcement agencies in this region. We’d have had the most significant lead we could have obtained within minutes of the incident.

“Every policeman in the St. Louis area would have been looking for that white Taurus … missing one plate and a Georgia plate. We’d know exactly who we were looking for within minutes instead of 72 hours it took us to take the gentleman and his girlfriend into custody …,” he said.

“Our guys did a heck of a job, but it would have been a lot easier and a lot faster. We also would have had video evidence that put that vehicle within blocks of the Starbucks store — the scene of the crime, if you will …”

Residents speaking immediately after Paillou’s presentation were split over a red-light camera program. Some questioned whether such a program actually would impact safety and expressed concerns due process would be eliminated. Others voiced their support for such a program, saying it would improve public safety.

Tony Stephens, general manager of Crestwood Court said he believed red-light cameras would benefit the mall, particularly with regard to shoplifting incidents.

“… Oftentimes, we don’t get a license plate, but we do get an ID on a car … By the time that’s transmitted, that car’s a long ways away. These red-light cameras I think would help us with shoplifting incidents, controlling them and also in arrests at Crestwood Court as a result of it. And the more we can deter that, the better off our merchants would be …,” he said.

In making the motion to conduct a work session, Beezley, who serves as the aldermanic representative to the Police Board, said, “… I think the Police Board has done their due diligence in looking at it and I think at least we need to take the step to further this.”

But the board voted 4-2 not to pursue the work session.

During a period for public comment later during the meeting, resident JoAnne Berry said, “… As a citizen of Crestwood, I would — I feel I have the right to know why you aldermen have put down the proposal to be educated on the devices that Chief Paillou (proposed).

“All we were asking was to have a work session so you could better educate yourself on making a final decision and without any further education, you all have turned it down blatantly without even knowing all the facts. And personally, I want to know why.”

Mayor Roy Robinson said, “… The main thing is the board’s voted and it’s a moot issue at this point. The board made their decision and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.”

Berry asked, “… They don’t have to tell us anything?”

Robinson replied, “Well, they can tell you if they want to, but evidently they did not feel that it was warranted by the majority of the board.”

“So the safety of Crestwood was not warranted? Thank you,” Berry concluded.