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City may pour $20M into photo radar

But councillor wants cops to take over job

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WINNIPEG’S photo-radar program is up for debate as a new report recommends the city spend $20 million to hire a contractor to operate the program for another seven years.

 A Winnipeg police administrative report, released Thursday, recommends the city award its photo-radar program contract to ACS Public Sector Solutions from 2013 to 2020.

 Police want the contractor, who’d been providing the service, to switch from film cameras to digital, which would mean clearer photos and more efficient processing of red-light tickets.

 Council’s protection and community services committee will review the recommendation at a meeting on Monday. Winnipeg police declined to comment, saying Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel will deliver a presentation at the meeting.

 Protection and community services chairman Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James) said he thinks Winnipeg should discontinue the photo-radar program and devote more officers to traffic enforcement.

 Police reviewed the impact of increasing the number of full-time officers dedicated to traffic enforcement to 67 from 10, and found the increasing cost of salaries and court costs would reduce the program’s net revenue. The police service also examined whether it makes sense to create a cityrun photo-radar special operating agency, and concluded it would have to be built from scratch, which could take at least a year.

 Contracting out the service is the cheapest option, the report said, as it will cost Winnipeg a base price of $41.70 per ticket to hire a service provider, compared with $69 under a special operating agency or $100 per ticket if Winnipeg were to add an additional 57 officers to conduct traffic enforcement.

 The report said hiring a photo-radar contractor would also net more money to contribute to the police service, at about $5.5 million a year.

 Fielding said the program should focus on increasing public safety, not revenue.

 He said having more officers conduct traditional enforcement will improve road safety and also give police an ability to catch other types of criminal offences — such as robberies — while they’re on the street doing traffic stops.

 "You’re going to have that added benefit," he said. "I think it’s a better type of policing."

 Fielding said he fundamentally disagrees with photo-radar cameras, but expects the majority of city council will still support continuing the program.

 Other members of council’s protection and community services committee said they think the program has improved safety and encouraged drivers to slow down.

 "Ultimately, these things have made the intersections safer," said Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie.

 Last year, a study the city commissioned found the number of collisions at red-light-camera intersections dropped 46 per cent after the devices were installed. Researchers found the cameras reduced the number of T-bone crashes, which experts say are the most likely to cause severe injuries and fatalities.

 However, the same study found rear-end collisions increased 15 per cent at red-light camera intersections, to 32 to 34 per month from 27 to 28 per month.

 The photo-radar report said police also want to work with the city and the province to review the traffic-court process. It noted a "disturbing trend," where officers are forced to spend more time away from their usual duties or work overtime to appear in court due to an increasing number people who have decided to contest traffic tickets.

 Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said he thinks it may make more sense to make police cadets responsible for traffic tickets. Smith said he also wants the city to consider removing signage at red-light camera intersections to encourage drivers to slow down everywhere.

 "We shouldn’t warn people," he said. "If people are breaking the law they should get a ticket."

 jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

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