North Las Vegas Police Get Go-Ahead For Traffic Camera Study

A southern Nevada city is making plans to install cameras at some intersections to collect data that police say could convince state lawmakers to let them use photos to cite drivers for traffic violations.

The North Las Vegas City Council overrode criticism from civil libertarians and agreed Wednesday to let police place "red light"
cameras at two intersections.

"You can't change what you can't document," Councilwoman Stephanie Smith said.

"I see this as saving lives."

North Las Vegas Police Chief Mark Paresi and Las Vegas police Sgt. Robert Roshak said data gathered at the unnamed intersections would be used to show state lawmakers how effective cameras can be in traffic law enforcement.

The Nevada Legislature has banned the use of red light cameras to ticket drivers, but allows other police surveillance cameras.

In the past, "we never had statistics," Roshak said of traffic cameras.

"We didn't have enough good information to counter some of the questions we were asked" by lawmakers.

Las Vegas police recently installed surveillance cameras in one high-crime downtown Las Vegas neighborhood, and are considering putting traffic cameras at two intersections, officials said.

No tickets will be issued or disciplinary action taken against drivers caught on the North Las Vegas cameras disobeying traffic laws, Paresi said.

Instead, officials plan to chart how many drivers violate traffic laws.

Results would be given to the Legislature in 2009.

Paresi said he believes red light cameras will help decrease the number of wrecks in a city where police investigated 4,500 crashes last year, including 29 involving deaths.

Mark Etzbach, a spokesman for camera manufacturer Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., said traffic cameras have been effective in other communities.

But Allen Lichtenstein, lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, noted that Nevada lawmakers have in the past considered red light cameras an invasion of privacy.

"The real question is how that information is going to be used, who it is going to be used by, and what are the safeguards," Lichtenstein said.

Paresi assured North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon, who asked
whether the cameras could be used to help determine fault after an accident, that images would not be used for anything but the study.

Police plan to monitor the cameras for six months before posting signs declaring their location, to then see if drivers change behavior, officials said.

Paresi said the data should help create "a pretty succinct picture of red-light running in North Las Vegas."

The cameras will be provided free for the initial testing, he said.

If city officials choose to use the cameras for red light enforcement, they would pay for their use.

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