Read a presentation made to the Las Cruces City Council regarding the city's Safe Traffic Operations Program, which governs the use of red-light enforcement cameras.
LAS CRUCES — Except for the possibility of imposing a lien, there was only talk — no specific options were discussed by the Las Cruces City Council at Monday's work session focusing on red-light enforcement camera fines.
However, Councilor Gill Sorg had an idea that he offered for consideration.
"Ultimately, the solution to these red-light cameras is to have roundabouts," said Sorg, of potentially changing some city intersections to traffic calming circles instead. "I would like to see us look at roundabouts as much as possible."
After public backlash several months ago when city administration decided to contact the most egregious red-light offenders — who had racked up 10 or more unpaid citations — the council brought up the issue at Monday's work session. There was some public outrage when the city threatened to shut off city-owned utilities for those offenders who hadn't paid, or made arrangements to pay, their fines for red-light tickets they had been issued.
It even went as far as the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, who conducted a preliminary inquiry into those plans. However, the commission quickly learned it lacked any jurisdiction that could prevent the city from collecting debts on civil citations.
But the clamor was enough to get city officials to back off from their threat, and the council kept its vow Monday to bring the matter before a work session to begin exploring other potential collection options.
But the council, and city officials, clearly felt that something has to be done. Las Cruces Police Department Deputy Chief Chris Miller told the council that 57,659 red-light camera citations have been issued since the enforcement program began on March 30, 2009. Currently, the cameras are used to detect alleged red-light runners and motorists accused of speeding through three intersections: east Lohman Avenue and Telshor Boulevard, Lohman Avenue and Walnut Street, and northbound Valley Drive at Avenida de Mesilla.
Those three locations make up just four percent of the city's intersections, Miller said.
"These numbers are pretty staggering," said Police Chief Richard Williams, of the citations that have been issued. "It's huge.
"We need to get a handle on traffic enforcement. ... This is something that places all of us at risk."
City Manager Robert Garza agreed, and promised there will be further refining of the ordinance.
"This is a serious problem," said Garza, who made the decision to send letters to the four offenders who had accumulated the most unpaid red-light citations. "We've got to start with education and send a clear message that we will not allow people to be blatantly violating the law."
Garza added there will be more opportunities for the council to discuss and consider additional options for collecting fines.
"We certainly can look at new tools," he said. "Certainly, a lien is one consideration. The city might also want to explore the possibilities of adding a vehicle forfeiture into the ordinance. It could be discussed."
The council's discussion of the enforcement cameras comes on the heels of Avallone Mechanical Co., of Las Cruces, filing a second appeal to state District Court of an alleged violation of the red-light ordinance. The appeal, filed in late May by the Due Process Foundation, focuses on the city's apparent failure to follow state statute that authorizes the ordinance.
"The city failed to include a provision that applies District Court rules of procedure and evidence at all hearings," said Anthony Avallone, a trustee for the Due Process Foundation. "The hearing officer erroneously admitted evidence of a photograph and the electronic data printed with the photograph without a proper foundation through an expert or qualified operator that the equipment was working properly and produced accurate information."
Other residents said they were pleased the city wasn't planning to go forward with attempts to shut off utilities.
"I was worried that the talk was going to be more about money than the effectiveness of the ordinance," Jason Burke said.
However, Jane Grider said she still continues to support the city's use of the enforcement cameras.
"I really feel red light cameras have reduced a very dangerous situation," Grider said. "I feel much safer because the red light cameras are in place."
Steve Ramirez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; (575) 541-5452. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRamirez6.
Still just talking
• The Las Cruces City Council discussed the city's Safe Traffic Operations Program, which governs the use of red-light enforcement cameras.
• The council is seeking other options in an attempt to collect more than $2.42 million in outstanding fines from the enforcement cameras.
• The council and city administration reiterated Monday the city will not pursue attempts to shut off city-owned utilities of violators with unpaid fines.
• The city is in the third year of a five-year contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to operate the cameras at Telshor Boulevard and east Lohman Avenue, Lohman Avenue and Walnut Street, and at the northbound intersection of Valley Drive and Avenida de Mesilla.
• The council will receive a second report of a New Mexico State University study being conducted on red-light enforcement cameras at its July 9 work session.