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Photographing Speeders : Smile: Pasadena to Begin Camera Test

October 15, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Speeders beware.

Beginning Nov. 2, the Pasadena Police Department will begin a one-month test of a photographic radar device that clocks a vehicle exceeding the speed limit, and at the same time snaps a picture of the license plate number and the driver's face.

Unlike a human traffic officer, who lumbers along at a top speed of about 10 tickets an hour, the photo radar blazes away at a rate of up to 260 photographs an hour.

Police Cmdr. Gary A. Bennett said the department will issue only warnings to the registered owners of the vehicles photographed during the one-month period.

But he said if the test is as successful as city officials believe it will be, the city will begin using the device full time as early as January.

"We know this is going to be controversial, but if it means upsetting a few people, I'm willing to take it on the chin," Bennett said. "There's a controversy about speeding, too. People don't like it."

The trial will mark the first extended operation of the machine in California and the fourth in the nation.

The test follows a one-day demonstration Sept. 25 along a busy stretch of Oak Knoll Avenue when 50 speeders were photographed out of the 300 drivers that passed the device that day.

"Basically we were already convinced of the machine's efficiency," Bennett said. "We just wanted to see it work in person."

The Swiss-built Zellewger Ulster photographic Doppler radar consists of a standard highway radar unit coupled with a microcomputer, a camera and a flash unit.

The device is usually mounted at the back of an innocuouslooking station wagon and pointed toward the road.

A police officer dials in the desired speed, and the device automatically photographs any vehicle traveling faster.

Information from the photograph is later printed on a violation notice that is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

So far, the device has only been used in three areas in this country: La Marque, Tex., parts of Galveston County, Tex., and Paradise Valley, Ariz. La Marque and Galveston County abandoned using the device because of public outcry. Paradise Valley has just begun using the machine.

The machine's U. S. distributors, Traffic Monitoring Technologies headquartered in Friendswood, Tex., say it is used in more than 30 countries, including Germany, Switzerland and Brazil.

Critics say the violation notices are difficult to enforce and the notices are sent to the registered owner of the car, who may not have been driving at the time of the violation.

Car owners are not obligated to pay the speeding fine, but they could be subpoenaed to identify the alleged violator and arrested if they ignored the subpoena.

Under California law, the violation notices are not tickets, which must be signed by the alleged violator.

Galveston County Constable Paul Bess said many violators in his area threw the tickets away. Pasadena officials are concerned that they could face the same situation.

Police officers could track down the violator and issue a summons. Although that process was time consuming and rarely followed in Texas, Pasadena officials said they intend to follow up the violations.

Bennett said the speed of traffic on major streets, such as Oak Knoll Avenue, South Orange Grove Boulevard, North Wilson Avenue and North Hill Avenue will be monitored before and after the test.

Bennett said he is planning to mail a questionnaire about the device with each warning notice.

"It's kind of risky; I mean who likes getting a speeding ticket," Bennett said.

If the device is used full time, Bennett said the city could either buy it for $42,500, or lease it under a program in which Traffic Monitoring Technologies would operate the machine for a fee of $20 per violation notice.The company would maintain the machine, develop the film, identify the vehicle's registered owner and produce the violation notice.

The arrangement, although convenient and inexpensive for the Police Department, can create a rather unsavory reputation for a community as a revenue-hungry speed trap, opponents say.

But city Director Jess Hughston said that having a speed trap reputation may not be all that bad.

"If it makes people drive slower, I could care less," he said.

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