HPD: Red-light runners not off the hook

November 18, 2010 5:16:45 PM PST
We are learning more about what police plan to do to catch red light runners, now that the red light cameras are off. Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland says he respects the voters' decision on November 2 to eliminate the city's red light cameras. At the same time, he doesn't agree with it and says it will deeply affect the way he runs the massive department.

The Southwest Freeway feeder road at Bellaire is one of the busiest traffic spots in the city. More drivers ran the red light than anywhere else in September; a total of 1,600 times -- more than 50 times a day the red light cameras snapped pictures of alleged red-light runners, generating a lot of money for the city.

In September alone, Houston's cameras combined netted $1.1 million, of which $330,000 went to the city.

So how does the loss of the red light cameras really impact the Houston Police Department, not only from the loss of revenue in these tight fiscal times, but also as it relates to the way officers patrol the city?

"There are intersections in this city that are problematic," McClelland said.

McClelland says he won't stop traffic enforcement, so officers will have to replace the cameras. And that means, he says, spreading a thin force even thinner.

"He's gonna have to come from the neighborhoods," McClelland said. "I have no extra police officers sitting around not doing anything."

Aside from the staffing challenge, there are real dollar concerns. The chief estimates he's losing $5 million without the camera revenue.

"We're gonna look at everything," he said. "I have to cut somewhere because I have to absorb that loss in my budget."

And he respects voters' decision, even though he doesn't really understand it.

"I guess I can interpret from the vote that people may believe that running a traffic signal is dangerous but they want a police officer to catch them," McClelland said.

McClelland would not commit to any specifics about how he'll cut his budget for the remaining months of this fiscal year. But he says he will cut because he has no choice.


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