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Smile, You May Be on Red-Handed Camera

September 03, 1998|STEVE EMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An angry motorist called Fullerton police recently to complain that the cameras at some intersections were a sneaky way of catching traffic violators and smacked of "Big Brother" surveillance.

He was a little before his time. The video cameras he saw are to help maximize traffic flow. No red-light violation cameras are installed in Fullerton or anywhere else in Orange County.

But they're coming.

Garden Grove

The city's traffic engineer, George Allen, said he knows camera enforcement works because he tried a homemade version when he worked for the city of Santee.

One officer videotaped violations, and two others stopped violators. "We were able to reduce accidents 27%, but it was very labor-intensive."

Now in Garden Grove, he has received a "sound proposal" from a camera enforcement firm to install eight to 10 cameras.

"I've got to do something to reduce accidents," Allen said. "The accidents occurring at signals are mostly people who have violated the red. After the [left turn] arrow goes out, they just keep going."

When the issue comes before the City Council, the "Big Brother" issue is bound to be raised, "but I'm certain we can justify it," Allen said. "The reasonable people who understand it realize it's saving lives and [preventing] property damage and making the streets safer."

Likely intersections to receive cameras: Brookhurst Street at Westminster and Chapman avenues; Garden Grove Boulevard at Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue; Euclid Street at Trask Avenue.

Brea

"Our City Council is very interested in the cameras, and they've directed staff to pursue it," said Warren Siecke, the city's traffic engineer.

The prime candidate for camera enforcement: State College Boulevard and Imperial Highway.

"We've noticed over the year an increasing number of people who run red lights," Siecke said, adding that about 27% of the city's accidents are caused by red-light violations.

The city is negotiating with camera enforcement firms for a "a program we can afford and [that] is workable."

Irvine

About 40% of traffic fatalities are caused by red-light runners, says Sgt. Denny Jenner of the police traffic bureau.

So when the Legislature authorized long-term camera enforcement, "we looked at it as something that could have a very big benefit," Jenner said.

"We're not ready to install them yet," said the city's public works director, James H. Eldridge. "But we're looking at it very aggressively."

Huntington Beach

"We're actively looking into it," said Bob Hidusky, a city traffic technician.

But the city is at the earliest stages and still investigating technical details, he said.

Some Orange County cities have looked and said no thanks.

Costa Mesa's interest in camera enforcement petered out a year ago. The City Council has voted to install intersection cameras, but they are the video kind intended to monitor traffic volume.

Laguna Beach researched the cameras a year ago but went no further.

And Fullerton police simply decided to opt out.

"We looked into it, but it's pretty costly for what it does," Sgt. Steve Matson said.

Red-light violations seem to go in cycles, he said, and simply staking out problem intersections for a while seems to do the job.

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