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Minneapolis to Adopt Red Light Cameras

September 8, 2004

Come next summer, Minneapolis motorists with a penchant for running red lights will need to think extra hard before pushing on through, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on August 30. The City Council agreed 11-2 to make it more difficult to get away with running stoplights by putting cameras at intersections to catch scofflaws. Police Lt. Greg Reinhardt has 30 days to devise a plan. Reinhardt said he expects cameras to be in place by April or May. Initially, 12-16 troubled intersections will have cameras. Eventually, up to 40 intersections could have the equipment, he said. City attorneys have said they expect Minneapolis to be sued over what is referred to as "photo cop," but they also expect the city to prevail. Photo cop's detractors have raised concerns about privacy issues and questioned whether the program is merely a way for the city to make money. Supporters say photo cop will enhance public safety by preventing accidents. With relatively little debate, the council agreed to give it a shot. The camera will take a picture of a vehicle and license plate as it enters an intersection on a red light. The photo will be reviewed and a ticket mailed to the owner of the vehicle. If the owner wasn't driving, he or she can appeal the offense. Council member Paul Zerby cited accident numbers, saying that in the past four years, 49 people have been killed at city intersections and 11,800 injured in crashes. "I think we can make an appreciable dent in those numbers," he said. "On balance, this is a good step forward." As for what revenue it might generate, Reinhardt said it would be several hundred thousand dollars more than the up to $3 million already generated annually for traffic violations. In his view, the cameras also might stem some concerns about racial profiling. "There's no way you can do any profiling with these cameras. You get what you get," he said. He said he expects the city to choose a vendor for the cameras by the year's end. Once the cameras go up, Reinhardt said, he anticipates a 30-day grace period before tickets are issued. He also noted that drivers who enter the intersection on yellow lights won't be ticketed. City attorneys say they expect the ordinance to survive because of two existing laws. One allows bus drivers to write down license plate numbers of vehicles that run a stop sign on a bus. The violators can be issued citations. Also, ambulance drivers can report the license plate numbers of drivers who fail to yield and those people can be cited, he said. In both cases, the vehicle's owner gets the ticket.
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