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9:51 AM Thu, Jan. 17th

Top stories of 2013 - #7: Prescott Valley pulls the plug on photo enforcement

Courier file

Courier file

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Traffic enforcement cameras mounted at intersections and installed in vans were covered up in October after the Town Council decided not to renew its contract with Redflex Traffic Systems.

The move came shortly after Daily Courier stories reported that some Prescott Valley police officers had dismissed notices of violation issued to family members and also reported on a Chicago Tribune investigation into charges of corruption involving Redflex and the City of Chicago.

"I've lost faith in Redflex," Town Councilman Rick Anderson said in a March meeting.

"The community has been so uncomfortable with it. I am supporting pulling it out," Mayor Harvey Skoog, a one-time proponent of the cameras, said.

The cameras, installed in 2006 and designed to activate for red-light running or speeds 11 mph or higher over the limit, were located at Highway 69 and Prescott East Highway, Glassford Hill Road and Long Look Drive, and one was placed on Highway 69 near Mendecino Drive for speed only. The town also used two mobile vans, which operated at various locations.

Statistics supplied by the police department to the town council said that, from October 2006 through September 2011, police issued 102,874 photo-enforcement tickets and that collisions dropped from 882 in 2007 to 613 in 2010, a 30 percent decrease.

The police also compiled statistics on photo-enforcement violations that indicated violations dropped from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 fiscal years, which conclude on June 30. Van citations dropped from 5,217 to 3,252 (37.7 percent) in 2012-13, fixed-speed citations fell from 22,457 to 21,332 (5 percent) and red-light citations declined from 3,210 to 3,092 (3.7 percent).

Separate reports from the police logged an increase in overall citations from 1,914 in 2011-12 to 2,506 in 2012-13 - a 30.9 percent hike - and in overall traffic accidents from 543 in 2011-12 to 568 in 2012-13, or 4.6 percent.

The citations, which started at $180, were revenue-neutral for the town, police and town officials have maintained from the start.

The town collected $235,639 in 2012-13 after paying Redflex $587,126, Management Services Director Bill Kauppi said. Kauppi explained the town receives $10.56 out of a starting ticket of $180, with Redflex collecting $70 and $27 going to the court processing fee.

In March, an independent auditor found 22 instances of police officers dismissing notices of violations for family members.

One officer, the audit said, threw out seven such notices his wife racked up.

The audit resulted in an investigation of two officers, who were ultimately reassigned and took pay cuts.

A study was started to look at drivers' behavior in the six months immediately following the removal of the cameras.

Sgt. Brandon Bonney said the cameras are actually still in use to monitor traffic, but that citations were no longer issued.

"The cameras themselves are not taking pictures of people, they're not recording who's committing violations, but the sensors are still active" as part of that study, Bonney said.

Bonney supplied some statistics which showed an increase in collisions, but cautioned that he could not attribute the numbers to the lack of photo enforcement.

In October 2012, there were 44 crashes in Prescott Valley; in October 2013, 68 for a 54.5 percent increase. In November 2012, there were 46; in November 2013, 58 for a 26.1 percent increase.

"We won't be able to draw any correlation between the increase in crashes (and the effect of the cameras)... until that study is completed, which will take several more months," Bonney said.

Since the cameras were removed, PVPD has not necessarily added officers to traffic enforcement, he added, but "enforcement has always been one of the primary functions of our traffic unit, as well as a duty of our patrol officers on the street.

"It's always been paramount," he said, "but (now) there's a heavier load on the officers... to slow individuals down."

Follow the reporter on Twitter @AZNewsguy