Westminster turns off pair of red light cameras, saying they've done their job

The City of Westminster this week pulled the plug on a pair of red light cameras at one of the county's busiest intersections — at routes 140 and 97 — saying the cameras had, by and large, done their job in helping reduce accidents and red light runners.

"You do what you say you're going to do," said Maj. Ron Stevens of the Westminster Police Department regarding the removal of the cameras, which was approved by the Westminster Common Council on Monday.

"We said all along that the cameras were needed because of safety issues," Stevens said. "They've definitely worked — people are much more aware of the dangers of the intersection."

But the department will continue to operate another red light camera a block away at Route 97 and Nursery Road, based on data that shows continued high rates of violations on that stretch of road.

It's the second time that Westminster has reduced its use of red light cameras since it first installed five of the devices in spring 2010.

Two of those initial five cameras — monitoring violations in left-turn lanes from Route 140 — were eliminated after one year because police determined there were very few violations.

This year, Stevens said, the department conducted new analysis and found that violations have been greatly reduced for the main stretch of the road as well. And while there have been accidents, they generally aren't considered to be related to red light runners, he said.

Stevens said the Route 97/Nursery Road cameras has consistently recorded more violations than the two Route 140 cameras combined. For instance, in June, the camera detecting east-bound Route 140 at Route 97 recorded 32 violations, and the west-bound camera recorded 30 — but the Nursery Road camera caught 129 violations for the month, Stevens said.

Stevens said that at the Common Council's July 9 meeting, Westminster Police Chief Jeffrey Spaulding recommended that the Route 140 cameras be pulled, but said the city should retain the one at Nursery Road. The council agreed.

The department notified the contractor on Tuesday, and Stevens said he expects that the cameras were turned off almost immediately.

He said the cost of operating the three cameras for has been $137,831 from spring 2011 to spring 2012, and the cameras have brought in $216,553 over the same period. The fine for a red light violation is $75.

"You break even if you have two citations per day per camera," he said of the cost of operating the cameras.

But he said the issue for the department has been accidents and violations — and still will be. The city will monitor the intersections, and could reinstate the cameras if problems arise, he said.

The potential for drivers going back to bad habits, he said, "is the risk you run."

Cutting the red light cameras may save the department some man hours — Stevens said an officer usually spends about three hours a day reviewing the citations to make sure they are valid, and there's also about one day a month spent in court. But since the most active camera — at Nursery Road — is still in place, he's not sure how much time will be saved.

Stevens said that since the council's action, he's gotten many calls from people wanting to know if they still need to pay the tickets they got before the red light cameras were cut off.

"Yes, they do," he said. "Unfortunately, if you got caught already, you have to pay that citation."

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