Controversy over officer who was vocal red light camera supporter

July 12, 2011 4:42:09 PM PDT
The city's controversial red light camera program is back online, but there are new questions about a vocal camera supporter.

In the back and forth over red light cameras in Houston, there is a question over who you can trust. American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the camera company, was looking to keep the red light cameras on across the state, so they hired nearly a dozen lobbyists, including a well-known Houston police officer in a deal we only found out about once it was done.

We know the mayor supported red light cameras. We know the Houston Police Department did, too. And it was clear for months that the Houston Police Officers' Union wanted to keep the cameras in town as well.

"We have a serious problem with people running traffic lights in this city and this is a tried and true technology that's very effective. It's helped us and we need to keep it in place," said HPOU's Mark Clark on September 13, 2010.

What we didn't know was that Clark, the executive director of HPOU, was put on the camera company's payroll a few months after that interview.

"If he really believes that, maybe he should do it for free," said camera opponent Byron Schirmbeck.

Clark didn't do it for free. According to state records, Clark was paid at least $10,000 by ATS to fight a possible statewide camera ban in Austin. It wasn't for work in Houston, but camera opponents still cried foul.

"People, naturally and rightly so, trust when a police officer tells them something; that they can be trusted and what they're saying is true. When that influence is being bought and paid for, then the public can be deceived," said Schirmbeck.

Clark, who is also a Houston police officer, doesn't deny his role. In fact, he says he did a good job on his own time. He says it was an extra job, not against any law or policy, and he says it was approved by the police department.

"There is absolutely zero conflict, none at all. The fact that anybody from the opposing side is raising it -- it's a smokescreen," said Clark.

While Clark did disclose his deal to the state, the city and the union, he never said anything publicly. So when he told Eyewitness News viewers last weekend, "We're glad the cameras are back on. They never should have been turned off to start with;" neither you nor us had any idea he had worked for the company at the same time he worked for the union and the city.

"I gave viewers what they needed to know. If you're worried about red light cameras, don't run a red light," Clark said.

Clark and ATS say their work together is now over. However, so is the legislative session which means there is no need for any more lobbying. The legislature, by the way, didn't ban cameras stateside, and ATS won that battle.


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