Redflex Traffic Systems, the company that once had unmanned, pole-mounted red-light and speed enforcement cameras in Oak Ridge, has a new handheld system that it says could be used to help make roads safer as the city tries to slow down speeding drivers. But the use of the devices hasn’t been approved yet, and one Oak Ridge City Council member expressed her strong opposition on Tuesday.
The new handheld LIDAR devices include a camera, and they can capture traffic violations on video. They use a laser technology to measure vehicle speeds and distances between vehicles, said Charlie Buckels, southeast U.S. sales manager for Redflex. LIDAR stands for light detection and ranging.
Buckels said the handheld devices could be used for both civil and criminal violations. In some cases, such as for speeding, police officers could use the devices and the evidence they collect to issue civil citations that could be mailed to the registered owners of violating vehicles. In those cases, officers wouldn’t have to stop the violators, Buckels said.
But in other cases—when a car is driving excessively fast or swerving, for example—police officers could pull vehicles over, Buckels said.
City officials said they have been discussing drivers traveling too fast on roadways in the city, including those coming into town on South Illinois Avenue in the morning and trying to get to work on time. Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said three City Council members have asked him to take action to combat speeding, and he’s had concerns himself about traffic on Illinois Avenue. Other roads cited by city officials Tuesday included Oak Ridge Turnpike, Robertsville Road, Melton Lake Drive, and Tennessee Avenue.
Officials said the volume of traffic on some roadways can be more than one officer can manage effectively, and the handheld devices could help, issuing civil citations when appropriate and used to make traffic stops when necessary.
Buckels presented the device to the Oak Ridge City Council during a non-voting work session on Tuesday. The reaction was mixed.
Oak Ridge City Council Trina Baughn raised several objections. Millions have already been spent in recent years, Baughn said, specifically on “tools” and technology for the Oak Ridge Police Department, including more than $400,000 on a software system and “excessive dollars on additional vehicles, many of which are visible daily in our parking lot.”
“Our officers are very well-equipped to do their jobs; even the MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) review proclaimed such,” Baughn said in a follow-up email Friday morning. The cameras were divisive, and Redflex was voted out a few years ago “because the public so strongly demanded that we do so,” Baughn said.
She also raised one of the longstanding objections to Redflex, which is related to its involvement in a Chicago bribery case. Baughn cited an August 2015 press release from the FBI that reported that a former Redflex chief executive officer pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge. Baughn asked Watson why the city is even associating with the company.
“I will not support bringing them back under any circumstances and do not want any calls or emails about the matter,” Baughn said.
Watson said that particular CEO no longer works for the company. In a 2013 article posted on the Redflex website, the Sacramento Bee reported that Redflex had accepted the resignations of four top executives, including its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, after an earlier internal investigation found that a company representative gave an undisclosed amount of money and gifts to the official in charge of the city of Chicago’s red-light camera program.
On Tuesday, Watson said people want traffic slowed down in Oak Ridge, and the city staff wants to continue to look at options like the new Redflex devices. The purpose is to improve driver safety, he said.
Oak Ridge City Council member Ellen Smith said the new handheld devices should be considered. The devices would be in police cars, and they would allow officers to have an effect on more traffic, Smith said. She said driving speeds went up after the traffic cameras were removed two years ago.
“We need to look at this technology,” Smith said. However, she added that the city would need to put out a request for proposals and would have to accept bids.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch also said he thinks the city has a speeding problem.
“I think it’s getting worse,” Gooch said.
The Redflex handheld devices would be manned, meaning they would be used by an officer. They are more accurate than radar, Buckels said. It’s not clear what the cost per device would be; that would depend upon the configuration, Buckels said.
There could be several options for how the devices would be implemented, Watson said. In one option, Redflex would provide the equipment “up front,” meaning they wouldn’t cost the city anything, and the company would then charge a per-transaction fee.
Redflex had its pole-mounted, unmanned red-light and speed enforcement cameras in Oak Ridge for five years. They were installed at four locations: Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue/Lafayette Drive, Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Oak Ridge High School, North Illinois Avenue at Robertsville Road, and Robertsville Road at Willow Brook Elementary School.
But after some vigorous opposition and a few contentious meetings, the City Council did not extend the five-year contract with Redflex in March 2014. The vote to extend it for two years with a few changes was 3-4. Charlie Hensley is the only Council member who voted in favor of the extension who is still on the seven-member Council. Two members who voted against the extension, Trina Baughn and Chuck Hope, are also still on Council. (The other four members—Kelly Callison, Rick Chinn, Warren Gooch, and Ellen Smith—were elected in November 2014.)
Redflex representatives said the current proposal has nothing to do with cameras on poles. The new LIDAR devices would be in the hands of police officers, they said.
Buckels said a legislative change now only allows unmanned photo enforcement in school zones and so-called S curves. Ten cities in Tennessee, including Farragut and Johnson City, are using Redflex technology, he said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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