Pinal County, AZ, shelves speed-camera program

Pinal County supervisors Wednesday bid goodbye to photo enforcement.

Their vote to terminate their contract with Redflex, the company that operates the cameras, came at the recommendation of the county's top law-enforcement official, new Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

"I'm against photo speed enforcement completely," Babeu said, walking the three-member panel through a detailed PowerPoint presentation. "Here in Pinal, it's failed miserably."

Babeu said speed cameras created dangerous road conditions and offered little financial benefit for the county. He plans to boost traffic enforcement through additional manpower.

Although Pinal County's contract with Redflex wasn't set to expire until Feb. 20, two mobile speed cameras have not been in operation on Pinal roads since Babeu took office Jan. 1.

The speed vans had been roadside in some of Pinal's most populous areas, including Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and unincorporated areas near Queen Creek, since mid-2007.

The county's program is separate from the one operated by the Arizona Department of Public Safety on freeways statewide.

The supervisors two weeks ago had tabled a vote on the Redflex contract because they wanted Babeu to prepare a report on camera enforcement in Pinal, including the financial impact on the county.

He reported Wednesday that the two cameras were activated 11,416 times from September 2007 through last month. Of those activations, 7,290 resulted in citations, but only 3,711 were paid.

Babeu said most of the total $134,199.43 in fines and fees from the paid citations covered administrative and operational costs, leaving the county with a net profit of $12,391.58 that Babeu dismissed as paltry.

Moreover, Babeu said, total motor-vehicle accidents increased by 16 percent in the same time period, and fatal collisions in the Queen Creek area doubled from three to six.

The sheriff said he couldn't be certain that speed cameras were to blame for the crashes, but he believes they were a factor.

Collisions were said to be the reason Redflex was implemented on county roads. Former Sheriff Chris Vasquez initiated the contract to minimize an increasing number of crashes on Hunt Highway, the main thoroughfare connecting north-central Pinal County with Maricopa County.

Babeu thinks that putting more deputies on patrol offers the best way to improve safety, instead of relying on cameras that "can't catch drunk drivers" or stop motorists involved in illegal or dangerous activities.

The sheriff has increased his traffic-enforcement unit from two to four deputies, and a fifth will join the team soon. Babeu said the changes were made at no county cost as part of a departmentwide reorganization.

Babeu estimated that the volume of citations issued annually by the Sheriff's Office would increase sharply as a result of having more deputies on the streets. He said the five-member team alone could generate 10,400 to 20,800 citations a year.

Supervisor Bryan Martyn, whose district was the primary operating area for the speed vans, said he received a number of letters from residents who favored speed-camera enforcement, but he "doesn't presume to tell the sheriff how to do his job."

"He believes he has a better solution to this public-safety concern," Martyn said. "What he's proposing is prudent and seems to make sense. If it goes as sold, you may be praying for photo radar again."

Babeu may answer those prayers in a different way. He wants to bring red-light cameras to the county.

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