After nearly six months of testing and analysis, the Pasadena Board of Directors on Monday unanimously approved use of a controversial photo-radar system on city streets.
The board's decision to allow police to use the Swiss-built device called the Zellweger Uster photographic Doppler radar unit makes Pasadena the first city in the state and the second city in the country using the high-tech robocop to detect and cite speeding drivers.
"It's not without controversy and there are some people who have complained about it, but there are a lot more people concerned about safety," Police Cmdr. Gary A. Bennett said.
The device, a camera and standard highway radar device attached to a patrol car, clocks the speed of a vehicle and, if it is exceeding the speed limit, snaps a picture of the driver and the vehicle's license plate number.
Mailed to Car Owner
The information--which is printed on the photo and includes the speed, date, location and time--is then mailed with a citation to the registered owner of the car.
Bennett conceded that there are some problems with the device that may have to be resolved through new state or city regulations.
Critics say the photo-radar tickets may be difficult to enforce, since they are sent to the registered owner of the car, who may not have been driving at the time of the violation.
Because the driver does not sign the citation at the time, some critics also contend that the violator is not obligated to appear in court or pay the fine.
Bennett said the Police Department may eventually ask the city to adopt a special ordinance, such as the one in Paradise Valley, Ariz., which makes the registered owner responsible for the ticket.
"The system is legal, but it is a very different way of doing things," he said.
260 Speeders an Hour
With cool efficiency, the machine can photograph up to 260 speeders an hour, easily exceeding the modest two to four tickets mere humans can manage in the same time.
During a test last November and December, more than 1,420 warning notices were mailed to alleged speeders.
Bennett said the machine's presence had a noticeable impact. During the test, the number of speeders declined on eight of the 17 streets tested by up to 31%, he said, adding that full-time use of the machine could increase the number of speeding tickets issued in the city from about 4,000 to as many as 20,000 a year.
Paradise Valley, a city of 12,000 near Phoenix, began using the machine last October and Town Manager John Baudek said it has been an overwhelming success.
"It's here to stay," he said. "Our purpose was to slow down traffic and reduce accidents and it has been very successful."
Baudek said accidents are down 40% and the average speed on major roadways has dropped by 5 m.p.h.
According to the U.S. distributor of the device, Traffic Monitoring Technologies, based in Friendswood, Tex., hundreds of U.S. cities--including Long Beach, Carson, Compton and Gardena--have inquired about using the machine.
In Pasadena, the response to the machine has been mixed, according to a survey mailed to those who received warnings during the test period. Bennett said of 403 responses, 53% supported the machine and 45% opposed it.
"I expected much worse," Bennett said. "It was a rather biased audience."