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How important are school bus cameras to overall safety? Safety not so much, indoctrinating children in the fact big...

Red light program gets green light

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Cars pass through the busy intersection of Charles Boulevard and Fire Tower Road on Jan. 30, 2017. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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By Shannon Keith and Sharieka Botex
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A red light camera program for Greenville has the green light to go forward.

The Greenville City Council late Monday night by a 3-2 vote approved an interlocal agreement with Pitt County Schools for the operation of cameras that will issue tickets to suspected red-light runners at five problem intersections. Earlier Monday during a special called meeting prior to a school board workshop, the Board of Education voted 7-2 to approve the interlocal agreement.

At-Large Councilman Calvin Mercer, District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley and District 5 Councilman P.J. Connelly voted to approve the agreement and a contract with American Traffic Solutions to operate the system, which officials said will improve safety. District 1 Councilwoman, Mayor Pro-Tem Kandie Smith and District 3 Councilman McLean Godley voted against the agreement. District 2 Councilwoman Rose Glover was not present for the vote.

Worth Forbes and Benjie Forrest were the dissenting votes on the school board. Chairwoman Caroline Doherty abstained from voting, so her vote was counted as a yes. Superintendent Ethan Lenker said the program can only benefit the schools.

“Basically all it’s costing us to help the city is a police officer to help keep the integrity of the program,” he said. “We don't have to get involved with anything else. If we don’t make any money, we don't pay any money. There really is no risk to school system in the situation.”

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman, who first proposed the idea about a year ago, reviewed the program and the contract with ATS during Monday’s regular council meeting. The discussion took place after 11 p.m.

“This is our final step,” he said. “We didn’t get here quickly. ... It took time.”

State lawmakers in June signed off on a plan developed and approved by the city and Pitt County Schools to pay for camera installation and operation through penalties generated by traffic tickets. The Pitt County Board of Commissioners also signed off on the agreement on Monday. 

The camera program was ranked as one of the council’s top 10 priorities during its 2016 planning session. Cameras will capture images of vehicles running red lights at Charles Boulevard and 14th Street; Charles Boulevard and Fire Tower Road; Arlington Boulevard and Fire Tower Road; Arlington Boulevard and Greenville Boulevard; and Arlington Boulevard and South Memorial Drive.

"These were identified as the target intersections in the city," Holtzman said. "This initiative will deter drivers from running through these intersections and allow officers that usually are assigned to these areas to patrol elsewhere.”

Greenville officers investigate 400-500 reported traffic crashes every month, Holtzman said. Not every crash is at an intersection, but those at intersections often involve injuries. Holtzman said from 2013 to 2015, 13,683 crashes were reported in Greenville, resulting in 17 fatalities. 

“Out of 85 cities in North Carolina with populations of 10,000 or more, we were ranked third,” he said. “This is something we want to change.”

Holtzman said cities that install red light camera systems report an average of 21 percent fewer crashes and 14 percent fewer fatalities.

“In cities that turn off the red light cameras, crashes increase by about 30 percent, and fatalities increase by 16 percent,” he said. “The driving behavior not only returns ... it actually gets worse.”

Holtzman said Greenville’s red light program is modeled on one installed in Fayetteville, also operated by American Traffic Solutions.

The red light program in Fayetteville also installed cameras at five intersections. Holtzman said the cameras resulted in an average of 43 tickets per day and a 46 percent reduction in red light violations six months.

“About $1.3 million was paid to the local school system during the first year of the program,” Holtzman said. “I’m a big believer in these programs. They work.”

Under the terms of the agreement, American Traffic Solutions will be responsible for installing, operating and maintaining the red light camera system; processing the images for review; and issuing citations and collecting fees from the citations.

The Greenville Police Department will be responsible for reviewing and approving each citation and will handle any appeals by drivers who are issued a citation, Holtzman said. 

“The citations, which will be $100, will be considered civil infractions and will not be reported to insurance agencies or result in any points on a driver’s record, Holtzman said.   

American Traffic Solutions will receive $31.85 per citation, Holtzman said, and the remaining $68.15 will go to Pitt County Schools. Pitt County Schools will reimburse the city $6,250 a month ($75,000 a year) to the city to cover the expense of the salary and benefits for an officer who will serve as manager of the program. The system would keep the remainder of the revenue.

“It will be almost a full-time job to manage the program,” Holtzman said. “When this officer is not working on the program, they will be out in the field helping to control traffic around local schools.”

Holtzman said the cameras should be operational by July, and the program will go into effect in August. There will be a warning period of 30 days after the cameras are activated, he said.

“We will be issuing warning citations to drivers during that time,” he said.

The locations also will be published on the city's website, and the police department will work with media and the police departments at East Carolina University and Vidant Health to alert students and hospital employees who live outside Pitt County to the new program, Holtzman said.

“We will be communicating this to everyone,” he said. “Everyone will know well in advance before the system goes active and they will know what intersections the cameras are at.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com or 329-9572.

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