Red light camera begins issuing citations

After a protracted warning period, the city’s first red light camera begins issuing tickets.

Update #2 — March 10, 2014; 7:13 AM

The city’s first red light camera (see below) will begin issuing citations to motorists beginning today at 9:00 AM. The camera has been operating since December, but has only issued warnings to red light runners at the intersection of Elkhardt and Hull streets. Richmond police had planned to issue citations in early January, but technical glitches extended the warning period.

“We believe we have solved all the technical issues that caused us to delay full implementation,” said Lt. William Kelly in a released statement. “This is the first time we’ve done this in Richmond, and we wanted to ensure the system was providing accurate information.”

Police didn’t disclose what those technical issues were.

Since the warning period, police have issued nearly 1,000 warnings to drivers. Here’s a breakdown of the number of warnings by months, according to police data:

  • December • 420 warnings
  • January • 397 warnings
  • February • 238 warnings

Police are optimistic that the trending decline in warnings will validate the red light camera’s use.

“We are encouraged by the drop in the number of warnings that were issued each month,” Lt. Kelly said. “We hope that number continues to drop in the coming months. Our primary goal is to keep motorists and pedestrians safe in the city, not to issue citations.”

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Update #1 — January 2, 2014; 10:03 AM

The city’s first red light camera (see below), originally scheduled to begin issuing citations in early January, will instead continue to issue warnings to motorist who run red lights at the intersection of Hull Street and Elkhardt roads.

“The Richmond Police Department’s goal is to improve safety at this intersection,” said Captain Will Smith in a released statement. “We want to ensure that all electronic systems employed by the Department are in compliance with national standards and department guidelines. As this is an entirely new process for Richmond, additional time is needed to verify both those criteria.”

Smith said that the RPD is working with the camera operator, Redflex Group, and the City’s Traffic Engineering Department to finalize the camera’s implementation.

The camera is expected to begin issuing citations soon, perhaps as early as mid-January. RPD will notify media and the public before it begins citing motorists for red light violations.

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Original — December 16, 2013

Before Richmonders began hanging ornaments on their family Christmas tree, the City hung its own ornament in time for the holidays: a red light camera at the intersection of Hull Street and Elkhardt roads. Redflex Group, a company that specializes in “digital traffic enforcement solutions,” manufactured and installed the camera, which began operating on December 2nd. Current camera violations only result in a written warning to the offending motorist, but Police will begin using the camera to issue $50 citations per violation in early January.

“We would be happy if nobody ran the light,” said Lt. William Kelly about the Hull and Elkhardt intersection, which at 16 had the most crashes of any Richmond intersection in 2012. “Obviously, that’s not the case.”

The red light camera is the first to operate within city limits. Kelly said police officials have considered using a camera for the last five-to-ten years. But were “waiting for the technology to get there to make sure it was the right fit for the city,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the system did what [Redflex] said they would do.”

The camera provides both stills and video footage of offending vehicles to police. “You can see them in the intersection with the red light and a picture of their license plate,” Kelly said. The video component allows police to review the red light incident “from start to finish.”

Intersections with the most accidents in 2013

  • Belvidere Street & Leigh Street • 15 accidents
  • Belvidere Street & Broad Street • 13
  • Commerce Road & Hull Street • 13
  • 2nd Street & bull; Broad Street • 12
  • Belvidere Street & Clay Street • 12
  • 9th Street & Broad Street • 11
  • Belvidere Street & Main Street • 11
  • Broad Street & Malvern Avenue • 10
  • Broad Street • Staples Mill Road • 10

via the RPD

This modern technology comes at a price. The City signed a $4.5 million contract with Redflex in November 2011. According to police spokesperson Gene Lepley, the City’s contract with Redflex stipulates that the City pays $9,480 per camera each month. But the City intends to use money collected from red light violations to pay the monthly dues. At a rate of $50 per violation, the City would need to cite 190 red light runners each month to cover the monthly costs. Police spokesperson Gene Lepley said that if there isn’t enough money raised from violations to cover a monthly payment, that remaining amount is rolled over to the following month. Lepley said any excess money the City raises in a given month will go to the City’s general fund.

Controversy in Chicago

Redflex made news earlier this year when the Chicago Tribune reported that the company was involved in a $2 million bribery scandal involving Chicago city officials. Federal investigators launched a criminal probe in March. An internal Redflex investigation found that two employees were implicit in suspect dealings with Chicago officials. 8News reported in March that those two employees also negotiated Redflex’s contract with Richmond.

But in July, Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal cleared the deal of any improprieties. According to Umesh, two companies, Redflex and American Traffic Solutions, competed for the Richmond contract. Interestingly, Umesh reported that ATS was a subsidiary of Redflex. ATS contends that’s an erroneous claim (PDF).

If it keeps people safe

The rocky dealings that have marred Redflex and its relationship with the City are beyond the jurisdiction of Lt. Kelly. He only wants the new camera to make the intersection safe. “Awareness and education don’t seem to be working,” he said. “Hopefully, this will work.”

He said that he prefers that education and the presence of officers reduce red light running and crashes at intersections. But intersections like Belvidere and Leigh Street, which Kelly said has the most accidents in Richmond thus far in 2013 with 15 (see sidebar),1 may require alternate methods.

If the new camera at Hull and Elkhardt proves effective, Kelly envisions more cameras populating the city.2 “I see the system growing because there are some intersections where it’s tough to put a policeman at,” he said. “If it keeps people safe, I’m all for it.”

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  1. As of December 12th. 
  2. State law limits the number of traffic cameras in each municipality: “Each such locality may install and operate traffic light signal photo-monitoring systems at no more than one intersection for every 10,000 residents within each county, city, or town at any one time…” For Richmond, that’s about 20 red light cameras. 

photo courtesy of the Richmond Police Department

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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