Cameras to catch speeders may return to Santa Fe

March 19, 2019

Unmanned speed-monitoring vehicles may soon reappear on Santa Fe roadsides as the city revives a controversial program that operated for about four years before it was shut it down in 2013.

The Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hear a request by the police department to enter into a contract with an Arizona company to operate the radar-equipped vehicles that record images of passing cars and issue tickets to speeders.

Verra Mobility Corporation, formerly known as American Traffic Solutions, would get a 40 percent cut of each $100 speeding ticket that’s paid.

Mayor Alan Webber said Monday he supports the idea.

“The people I hear from are concerned about people speeding in their neighborhoods,” Webber told The New Mexican. “And just recently we had two traffic fatalities here. I don’t want to see people getting tickets, but I also don’t like want to see more fatalities. … The real point of this is not to give out more tickets, but to inspire voluntary compliance.”

A memo to city officials from police Deputy Chief Robert Vasquez advocates in favor of reviving the enforcement effort, which operated in Santa Fe from 2009-13.

“The essential purpose of this program,” he wrote, “is to promote safety on our streets by targeting areas shown to be areas of concern, or are subject to reports of speeding and high traffic incidents.”

Using automated equipment to enforce speed limits, he said, frees up officers to respond to more serious crimes “that might otherwise suffer a delayed response time.”

Supporters of the idea, called Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program, or STOP, point to statistics that show vehicle crashes have gone up since the original program ended.

A resolution that the City Council adopted in August 2017 states that “in 2014, 2,569 crashes were reported, in 2015, 2,704 crashes were reported and in 2016, 3,004 crashes were reported, showing a linear uptick in vehicle crashes since the STOP Program was terminated in 2013.”

Restarting STOP was not Webber’s idea. The City Council vote in 2017 was 5-4 to bring back the specially equipped SUVs with police department markings but no officers inside.

While proponents claimed the program results in safer roads, critics have said the program is an overreach of government surveillance. Some have said the system for contesting the speeding tickets is stacked against the driver and hearing officers nearly always sided against the accused.

In 2012, one 63-year-old Santa Fe man — who became known as the “speed-cam commando” — was so frustrated that one night he used a handgun to shoot up a speed-enforcement vehicle parked on Bishops Lodge Road.

After the 2017 council vote the city sent out requests for proposals. Only two companies responded: Verra Mobility and Redflex, another Arizona-based firm that had operated the program in Santa Fe between 2009 and 2013 until Redflex’s legal problems in other states prompted the city to allow its contract to lapse.

Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley in 2014 pleaded guilty to several bribery charges in Ohio. In 2015 she pleaded to conspiracy to commit bribery in a similar Illinois case. The Illinois judge in 2016 sentenced her to prison and ordered $2 million in restitution. Finley, 59, was released from federal prison in December.

A former Redflex top executive, Aaron Rosenberg, in a 2014 court filing claimed that the company had bestowed “gifts and bribes” to win contracts in New Mexico and about a dozen other states. However, nobody in this state was ever charged with any such crimes. Redflex operated in Rio Rancho and Las Cruces as well as Santa Fe.

Webber said that if the City Council approves the Verra Mobility contract, police Chief Andrew Padilla has recommended that the program have a “grace period” of a couple of months in which the SUVs would be parked on targeted streets to let people know the program is back, but no tickets would be issued.

The enforcement vehicles are not allowed on state roads, which includes major thoroughfares in Santa Fe including Cerrillos Road, St. Francis Drive and St. Michael’s Drive. The vehicles require at least 150 feet of straight road to read speeds correctly, and streets must be wide enough to park the SUV without impeding vehicular or pedestrian traffic.