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Fee Dispute Halts Red-Light Camera Program in L.A.

Traffic: Contractor refuses to install more of the devices, and city pursues legal advice.

November 06, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A contractor hired to provide cameras at Los Angeles intersections to nab red-light runners has stopped the program, insisting that police pay the company a flat fee rather than $60 per ticket.

City officials said they are concerned that cameras have only been placed in eight of the 16 promised intersections, and that the contractor appears to be putting profit ahead of public safety.

"My concern is your economic decisions are usurping our ability to make intersections safer," Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss told a representative of Affiliated Computer Services during a hearing Monday.

The contract called for camera systems at 16 intersections by Aug. 1. Sensors trigger photographs of cars entering intersections after lights turn red.

The council's Public Safety Committee asked Monday for a report on the delays and advice on legal recourse.

"They were supposed to fulfill an obligation by a certain date. They haven't," Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski said.

The Los Angeles Police Department gave the company a list of 800 intersections with accident problems, but Affiliated Computer Services has launched a video survey to determine which have the most red-light violations. The company receives $60 for each $271 ticket paid to the court by violators.

John H. Murray, a senior manager with the company, said ACS needs a high volume of violators to recover its cost for the equipment, which runs about $80,000 per intersection. Some of the intersections listed by the LAPD were found by the video survey to have only three or four red-light violations during an eight-hour period.

"That's not really a high and good use of this kind of equipment," Murray told the committee. "At the end of the day, there would have been no way to recapture the capital costs we had put in."

When it comes to collecting its fee, a major problem for ACS is that fewer than half the violations result in fines.

About half the photographs are thrown out because they do not clearly show the driver's face and the license plate, two features required for a conviction, said Sgt. John Gambill, who oversees the program for the LAPD. About 3% of the remaining cases are contested, and the city wins a conviction in about 78% of those, Gambill said.

Murray said his company's proposed flat fee also may be more legally defensible. A judge in San Diego recently tossed out hundreds of convictions out of concern that the contractor that processes the photographs has a financial interest in convictions. The case is on appeal.

If a flat monthly fee is agreed to in Los Angeles, the company would be willing to let police put the cameras anywhere they want, because the firm would not have to make sure there is a sufficient volume of violators to recover its cost, Murray said.

LAPD officials said the program is worthwhile, even though early results have been mixed.

At three of the four intersections where cameras were installed nine months ago, accidents are up slightly, but not as much as the 11% increase citywide.

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