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Idaho Springs to test traffic cameras

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Proponents say they will slow down drivers; opponents say they’re more trouble than they’re worth

By Ian Neligh

Cameras to track speeds of drivers through Idaho Springs will be used on a two-week trial basis before the city council decides whether to install them permanently.

No tickets will be given during the trial period. Instead, city officials will use data from the cameras to determine how fast people are actually driving on city streets and to learn how the cameras work.

The council agreed to let Brekford Corp., a company specializing in automated traffic safety, install the cameras at no cost.

If the council decides to install the cameras permanently, speeders would be identified and sent a ticket and a bill, with a portion of the fee sent to the city.

Mayor Mike Hillman previously stated the cameras could be set to catch people going a certain speed over the limit, such as 40 mph in a 15-mph zone.

Harry Rhulen, a Brekford Corp. representative, said the software could be used to send tickets or warnings depending on how fast the driver was going.

“The cameras are ambiguous as far as what you do with the data they create,” Rhulen said. “You can use them to send people warnings.”

Hillman said the city was considering it because of public demand.

“I did kind of a poll, and I did have a lot of people very excited about it,” said council member Kate Collier.

Positives to having camera

Rhulen said the cameras could support local law enforcement’s efforts as more people move into the community. The city currently has one to two officers working a shift.

“(With) one to two, you can’t cover the town. ... What the cameras and the program bring are an educational campaign to help augment what (police) are doing,” Rhulen said.

Rhulen said the town wouldn’t pay for cameras or the system because it pays for itself.

“The cameras get put in and paid for by a percentage of the ticket revenue,” Rhulen said. “There’s usually no cost to the town.”

The tickets will likely be $40, and the town and the contractors will split the money evenly until the cameras are paid off. After that, the town will begin to receive more money.

“Where it doesn’t work is if you’re a small town, and you don’t have a lot of transient traffic. Those are not you guys,” Rhulen said. “You’re getting all the Denver people, the ski traffic and whatever else comes off of I-70. It cuts through your town and then jumps back on because they’re trying to avoid the traffic on the highway.”

Rhulen said the money a town receives from the tickets often allows it to hire additional police officers and vehicles.

The city would pay no maintenance or administrative costs for the system. Instead, the company bares all of the costs.

Unlike some speed cameras, Brekford’s technology doesn’t need to be hardwired into the city’s infrastructure but can be portable and solar-powered.

“I think there’s room for it. I would welcome that data,” Police Chief Chris Malanka said, “(but) you’re not going to tell us anything that we don’t know.”

Rhulen added that instead of having officers stuck looking for speeders, they could be free to do other police work.

Counterpoint to the idea

Malanka voiced concerns with the system and doubted the city would get much money after he spoke with several police departments.

“Not all cities make money,” Malanka said. “People are losing money, or they’re having to invest money, so be cautious. I did my homework, and I’ve called around.”

He said that the system adds to the workload of city staff.

“There’s an increase in the workload for the court clerk, there’s an increase to the workload of the court, there’s an increase in the workload to the prosecutor,” he said. “Also Denver dismissed one out of three (tickets) in court. In this state, if they simply say, ‘It is not a clear picture. That wasn’t me driving,’ they’re not obligated to identify the driver, and those get pitched.”

Malanka said he was impressed with the technology but questioned how much money Brekford needed to make a profit.

“We literally don’t have to issue a ticket,” Rhulen said. “We assume that we’re going to make money and if it turns out that there’s no issuance of tickets, we eat that.”

Malanka said there was an upside to officers stopping vehicles for speeding: “Every car that we stop potentially we’re going to get somebody in violation of a protection order, driving without a license or a wanted fugitive,” Malanka said. “So this is not a replacement by any means, and the guys aren’t going to spend any less time doing traffic enforcement. This is something to enhance our capabilities.”

Contact Ian Neligh at couranteditor@evergreenco.com, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.