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10:26 PM Sun, Dec. 16th

PRESCOTT VALLEY PHOTO ENFORCEMENT: Council backs cutting ties with Redflex - but might seek another contractor

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Motorists here will continue to face photo-enforcement tickets for speeding and red-light running at least to Oct. 3, when the town's contract with Redflex Traffic Systems expires.

Negative news coverage and growing opposition from the public apparently prompted a majority of the seven Town Council members Thursday to call for severing ties with Redflex. Councilwoman Mary Mallory said she wants photo enforcement to go away.

"I've lost faith in Redflex as a corporation," Councilman Rick Anderson said.

Town Manager Larry Tarkowski recommended reviewing photo enforcement over the next few months, and bringing it back for consideration at the first council meeting in July.

"I think I am hearing clearly you don't want Redflex," Tarkowski told the council.

The council might consider advertising for other photo-en-forcement companies.

Mayor Harvey Skoog suggested doing away with photo enforcement for a one-year trial period to determine whether a spike in traffic accidents occurs. Police officials have maintained from the start of photo enforcement that the risk of getting tickets (for running red lights or driving 11 mph faster than the posted speed limit) encourages motorists to slow down - and reduces accidents.

A motivation to reduce accidents prompted town officials to sign a contract in July 2006 with Redflex, an Australian-based company with U.S. headquarters in Phoenix.

Redflex, which implemented photo enforcement in October 2006, installed fixed cameras at the intersections of Highway 69 and Prescott East Highway, and Glassford Hill Road and Long Look Drive. Redflex also installed fixed cameras at Highway 69 east of Mendecino Drive, and deploys two mobile vans.

Support for photo enforcement from the council appeared to be waning Thursday, just four days after the Courier published stories indicating police had rejected 22 violations involving family members who drove vehicles registered to police officers.

The Courier this past Sunday also reported an investigation by the Chicago Tribune of corruption involving Redflex and Chicago city government.

The stories reinvigorated opponents of photo enforcement, and more than 50 people attended the council study session Thursday.

The council generally does not accept public comments during study sessions, but Skoog decided to open it up to three-minute comments per speaker.

"I am glad they are saying Redflex is out," Kurt Womack said after the hour-long discussion. "That is my goal."

He said during the meeting that Redflex has a "tarnished reputation," and urged the council to "bail out of Redflex."

Womack, an architectural designer, was among 12 people who spoke out during the meeting.

The first speaker, Zeigh Owensby, who retired in November from his 27-year stint as a firefighter in Mesa, disputed police accounts that photo enforcement has reduced the number of accidents. He said he responded to more traffic accidents after cameras were installed at intersections in Mesa.

The council's options are seeking another photo-enforcement vendor or doing away with it, Anderson said during the council discussion.

"I only wish everybody would do the right thing," Anderson said. "I wish nobody ran a red light."

He said saving one life is worth keeping photo enforcement.

The town carried out photo enforcement in response to a public outcry over fatal accidents on a stretch of Highway 69 between Prescott Valley and Prescott dubbed "blood alley," Councilwoman Patty Lasker said. However, she said less need might exist now because the Arizona Department of Transportation widened the highway and the speed limit is lower.

She said the town has to weigh the costs of hiring additional police versus the additional workload photo enforcement has caused for the Magistrate Court.

Contacted after the meeting, Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan stated in an email that her company is "very proud of the public safety partnership we've established" with Prescott Valley.