Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Photo enforcement gets upgrade

Cameras to go digital, while vehicles to get laser systems

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You won't notice it other than the photograph of your speeding car will be clearer.

In about six weeks, the internal workings of Winnipeg's decade-old intersection cameras will be quietly changed from old-style wet film to modern digital cameras.

At the same time, four of the 10 mobile photo-radar vehicles will be outfitted with more accurate photo-laser systems.

The switch has been years in the making and is aimed at not only modernizing the photo-enforcement program, but also seeing fewer tickets challenged in court.

Police have said they've noted a "disturbing trend," in which more people fight traffic tickets, forcing officers to spend more time away from their usual traffic-enforcement duties or work overtime to appear in court. That, in turn, limits traffic-ticket revenues and increases costs to police.

Digital cameras are also expected to be cheaper for provider ACS Public Sector Solutions to operate. That opens the door for even more intersection cameras to become active. There are 50 intersection-camera locations in Winnipeg, but only 33 are equipped with an active camera at any one time as the cameras rotate through the system.

"At some point, they'll all be live," Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel said Tuesday. Empty camera locations will get digital cameras first, and as film stock runs out, digital cameras will replace the older cameras.

Riffel also said the newer laser equipment allows police to set up in more areas where they were hamstrung by radar's limitations. Laser also reduces the criticism levelled at police for using photo radar in places such as Grant Avenue near Nathaniel Street. Anti-camera advocacy group WiseUp Winnipeg claims the radar's beam is reflected by metal objects and produces inaccurate speed readings, which in turn has led to more court challenges.

"The nice thing about the laser is that it's totally portable," Riffel said. "All the vehicles are going to be digital photo radar, but then we'll also have four laser units that can move between vehicles."

Despite the prospect of more intersection cameras and use of photo laser, police do not expect the number of speeding violations to rise dramatically.

Police anticipate there will be a spike due to the new technology, but as seen already they believe there will be an eventual reduction in tickets as motorists adjust their driving behaviour. Since 2003, when the program began, there has been a 55 per cent reduction in speeding offences issued by the cameras as more drivers learn where the cameras are and slow down.

The camera switch-over comes after city council approved a new photo-radar contract with ACS Public Sector Solutions that lasts until 2020. The province has recently enacted new regulations to allow for digital and laser equipment.

The contract is worth $21 million -- the amount of money the camera system will generate in fines.

"That's the beauty about this -- it's a system that pays for itself," Riffel said. "If the province next week gets rid of photo radar, the city is not on the hook for a dime."

Under the contract, ACS Public Sector Solutions retains a portion of ticket revenue with excess money going to city police. In 2011, the last year figures are available, total photo-enforcement revenue was $8,988,117. The cost to ACS of running the program was $5,263,232. That left a surplus of $3,724,885 that went into the police budget.

Clearly, that's a traffic offence

THE new intersection speed cameras will operate much like your digital camera.

They will take high-resolution photos in JPEG or TIF format and be saved on a memory hard drive, flash stick or card. Memory will be large enough to record no less than 400 violations at two photos each.

The cameras will take colour images for court purposes, but tickets will issued in black and white to save money on printing.

Meanwhile, four mobile photo radar units will be outfitted with new laser devices with high-resolution digital cameras. They will be used to enforce the speed limit for approaching traffic, receding traffic and simultaneous detection of both approaching and receding traffic.

Police say digital technology will generate additional offences due to clearer images. It will also be less expensive to operate than processing wet film from photo-enforcement cameras that have been in use since the program started in January 2003.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 A4

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