Greenlights Red Light Enforcement
By Anita Varghese
September 28 -- The Santa
Monica City Council Tuesday authorized
the Santa Monica Police Department
to proceed with a one-year pilot program
for photo enforcement of red light
Called automated red light enforcement, the camera
system would photograph a driver and license plate
number and electronically transmit the image to
a police department computer.
No intersections have been selected, nor has
a vendor been chosen. The City Manager’s
Office will return to the council at later dates
with a budget and vendor bid process. Cameras
could be installed throughout Santa Monica in
three to six months.
“This is an important issue for us, because
people lose their lives everyday in
the U.S. because people run red lights,”
said Council member Kevin McKeown.
“The other cities on the Westside have
already implemented red light cameras. This is
not like we are the first. In fact, we are the
last on the Westside to do this program.”
The program comes eight years after an automated
red light enforcement plan was voted down by the
Council in 1999.
Eight years ago and in subsequent 2000 and 2002
discussions, Council members felt uncomfortable
with potential civil liberties violations such
as photos being taken of vehicle passengers and
the accuracy of the automated technology.
“The growing pains normally associated
with new technology have been worked out over
the last eight years,” said Police Chief
Tim Jackman. “Today, the technology is more
advanced and most of the objections previously
raised have been overcome.”
Jackman spoke with Executive Assistant Chief
Bill Maheu of San Diego, one of the first cities
to adopt an automated red light enforcement system.
Maheu told Jackman that San Diego had a number
of issues with the system -- including privacy
issues -- that have now been resolved.
Unlike random camera surveillance, red light
enforcement is more exact in capturing violations
by providing evidence of the vehicle behind the
violation line with the red light clearly in view,
completion of the vehicle traveling through the
intersection with the red light clearly in view,
a clear image of the vehicle’s license plate
number and a clear image of the driver’s
Some camera systems provide a video clip of the
complete violation sequence to confirm the violation.
Once the violations are captured and processed,
the photos and/or video along with Department
of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ownership information
are provided to the police department in an encrypted
secured format, allowing a police officer to view
the images and determine whether there has been
The police officer viewing the evidence verifies
the violation and authorizes the vendor to print
and mail the citation. Only violations approved
by the officer are sent to the vehicle’s
owner as a citation. Rejected violations are removed
from the storage system.
“Scientists have said there is a halo effect
when cities have red light cameras,” said
Council member Bob Holbrook. “When cameras
are in use throughout the city, there is a positive
effect on intersections that don’t have
cameras, because drivers now have habits in mind
to be careful.”
Currently, 20 Southern California governments
use automated red light enforcement. They include
Beverly Hills, Culver City, Long Beach, Los Angeles,
Los Angeles County and West Hollywood.
In 2006, 73 of the 1,870 accidents in Santa Monica
were caused by drivers who failed
to stop at red lights. In 2005, the
rate was 95 red-light accidents out
of 1,796 total accidents. In 2004,
the rate was 80 red-light accidents
out of 1,857 total accidents.