Bipartisan Effort Moves Colorado Toward Banning Traffic Cameras

Bipartisan Effort Moves Colorado Toward Banning Traffic Cameras
April 21, 2014

Eric Boehm

Eric Boehm writes for the Pennsylvania Independent, where this column first appeared. (read full bio)

Red-light cameras are really all about the green, says Colorado state Sen. Scott Renfroe.

Renfroe, a Republican from Weld County, says the automatic enforcement cameras used in a number of Colorado cities are about raising money more than ensuring drivers’ safety. His bill to ban the use of the devices is moving through the Colorado Legislature and could be on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk before the end of the week.

If the governor signs the bill, which already has bipartisan support in the state House and state Senate, it would make Colorado the 10th state to ban red-ight cameras.

‘Just About Revenue, Not Safety’

“They are just about revenue, not about safety,” Renfroe told Watchdog.org. “I’m for safety and there are things that we can do to increase safety, but the cameras are not one of them.”

Renfroe has other objections to the devices, too. He said he thinks the cameras are unconstitutional because a driver who gets a ticket cannot face his or her accuser in court.

The cameras also capture only a single moment in time, but they can’t judge whether a violation was really committed, as a police officer might.

“They take a picture, but they don’t tell the whole story,” he said.

After trying for two years to get some traction on the subject, Renfroe this year scored co-sponsorships from the Democratic leaders in the state Senate.

House leadership has endorsed its own version of the bill.

“These cameras just create revenue for cities and don’t actually increase public safety at our intersections,” Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) told the Denver Post.

Opposition from Cities, Cops

Groups representing local governments and police departments have come out to oppose the bill, which would cut off a source of revenue. The 10 cities in Colorado reported more than $7.9 million in revenue during 2013 from their camera programs, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

Automatic speed cameras, which would also be banned by Renfroe’s bill, brought in $7.4 million for the four municipalities using them — almost all of it from Denver.

But the methods used to extract that revenue from drivers is increasingly questioned.

An audit of Denver’s red-light camera program in 2011 found the cameras did not increase public safety and recommended the program be shut down.

Auditors found the cameras were costing more to operate than initially thought and reported the city did not have clear standards for determining whether they were being used effectively.

Despite the scathing review, the cameras still are operating in Denver and elsewhere.

No Action in Denver

And the city has not undertaken the recommended studies to increase the effectiveness of the red-light cameras or radar equipment, City Auditor Dennis Gallagher told the Senate State Affairs Committee last week.

“To our knowledge, the Denver Police Department still cannot demonstrate that either program has had a tangible impact on improving public safety,” Gallagher told the committee in written testimony.

The bill is awaiting a final vote in the state Senate, but it cleared a committee vote on April 14 and a preliminary vote in front of the full chamber on Thursday. The Legislature is scheduled to be in session through May 7.

No Word from Governor

Hickenlooper has yet to take a position on the bill, leaving Renfroe to worry whether the governor would sign the legislation.

“I think that’s the only thing that would stop it from getting through, at this point,” Renfroe said Thursday.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill to give drivers more options in contesting a ticket from a red-light camera. The bill had passed the state House unanimously. The state Senate passed it 38-1.

Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian-based company that operates red-light cameras in many American cities, gave more than $10,000 to McAullife’s successful 2013 campaign and paid $25,000 to sponsor his inauguration.

Colorado’s state government approved the use of red-light cameras in 1997.

Eric Boehm

Eric Boehm writes for the Pennsylvania Independent, where this column first appeared. (read full bio)