Police chief claims cameras at red lights would help police

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Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper endorsed the concept of putting enforcement cameras on traffic lights yesterday, saying automated ticketing could help the bureau "do more with the amount of officers we have."

Chief Harper spoke at a public hearing on legislation proposed by Councilman William Peduto, which would have the city ask the state for permission to use the cameras, which are now allowed only in Philadelphia.

The cameras would be installed, operated and maintained by a firm that would collect a flat fee from the ticket revenue. The cameras would record the license plate numbers of cars that blow through lights, and trigger a $100 ticket, but would not assess points toward the loss of the driver's license.

Mr. Peduto wants to funnel the revenue into improving traffic lights, stop signs, painted crosswalks and other safety features.

"Any technology that will help bring greater safety for the public, we're all for," said Chief Harper. "It'll help us cover more intersections."

Carnegie Mellon University History and Policy Professor Joel Tarr said data collected by his student researchers shows 79 deaths from car-on-pedestrian or car-on-bike accidents in the city from 1994 through 2005, or nearly seven per year. Another set of data shows 2,679 accidents involving pedestrians since 1997, including fatalities.

"These numbers are completely unacceptable," said David Hoffman, former director of the advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh. His group backs the cameras as a way to reduce the risk to city cyclists.

One speaker, Plum Borough plumber James Liberto, who sometimes drives through the city, panned the idea.

"To get a $100 ticket, that's a lot of money for people right now," he said, adding that drivers may innocently miss a red light if they're driving behind a high box truck. "How do you cross-examine a camera for extenuating circumstances?"

Council has not yet scheduled a vote on the legislation, pending further analysis by Carnegie-Mellon, which is crunching the numbers at no cost.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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