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Manteca exploring light camera technology in bid to improve safety at city intersections
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If you meet all the legal criteria to be ticketed for running a red light at select intersections in California the end result could be nearly a $500 hit to your pocketbook.

And one or more of those intersections could be coming to Manteca.

At the council’s direction, city staff is researching state law regarding red light cameras, the pros and cons, and how much they cost.

It is part of an overall effort by the council to augment police officers in the bid to improve safety, alert police to stolen vehicles, and provide video footage that could help solve crimes to ultimately lead to the arrest and conviction of perpetrators.

Surveillance cameras were installed last year at nearly two dozen places such as public parks while 27 license plate scanners will be put in place at key intersections in Manteca this year.

The exploration of the possible use of red light cameras is in response to a growing frustration voiced by a number of motorists about what they perceive is a growing epidemic of red light running in city streets.

Councilman Dave Breitenbucher who favors vetting red light cameras agreed that it does seem that red light running is getting worse.

Breitenbucher embraces the use of technology that augments public safety personnel as long as they are trained and it is used properly and that its use is weighed against the manpower needed to make it work effectively.

“It doesn’t replace having boots on the ground,” Breitenbucher said.

At the same time he noted it is impossible to have traffic officers assigned 24/7 to problematic intersections.

Red light cameras do require a commitment of manpower. A specifically trained officer needs to review all potential red light camera tickets to make sure they comply with the law. A police officer, and not a contracted company, issues the actual ticket.

There are a number of jurisdictions in California that use red light cameras and there are a number that employed them before discontinuing use. The tickets are not popular to those that receive them. They have been successfully challenged in jurisdictions that didn’t properly follow procedures including making sure the intersections where they are used have a 3.6 second time gap between the time a signal turns yellow and it turns red.

Cities have reported up to a 50 percent reduction in accidents at intersections with the red light cameras. Police in several cities who have observed intersections with the cameras report that most motorists drive through targeted intersections clearly marked with having the cameras much more cautiously than before the cameras were installed.

That’s because the basic $100 fine once court costs and other fees are tacked on bring the red lights ticket up to a few dollars shy of $500.

Jurisdictions where they have been used effectively have been able to significantly increase the number of red light tickets issued.

It’s a misnomer when critics claim it is a revenue generator item for a city. Jurisdictions that issue actual traffic tickets whether it is for speeding, running red lights or some other infraction receive an average of 17 percent of the basic fine. In the case of a red light ticket that is $17 of the $100 fine. The rest — plus the added on court costs and such — goes to the state.

Manteca in a typical year receives between $120,000 and $160,000 from tickets it issues. That is roughly enough to pay for one traffic officer. The cost of salaries and benefits to put Manteca’s five-officer traffic enforcement unit on the streets is around $800,000.

The city tackles traffic safety through enforcement and education using police officers and engineering to discourage speeding.

The assumption every vehicle caught by red light cameras results in a ticket is erroneous. According to California law, a citation can only be issued for a red light camera violation if there is a clear picture of both the driver and the license plate.

The tickets can only be issued by law enforcement officers specially trained in red light photo enforcement that review the violations including photographs, video, and registration data of red light runners.

The cameras work as follows:

*The system activates when motion is detected just prior to the stop bar after the traffic signal has turned red.  The cameras capture two images of an alleged violation, taken from the rear of the vehicle.

*The first image shows the vehicle at the white stop bar (limit line) and the illuminated red light.

*The second image shows the violator in the middle of the intersection with the red light illuminated.

*The license plate image is a close-up from one of the images captured.

*Data, including the time, date, and duration of the yellow and red lights, also is recorded.

*Cameras also record a 12-second digital video of the violation, including six seconds prior to and six seconds after running the red light.

Some motorists that receive the tickets argue the red light cameras violate their right to equal protection under the constitution as well as due process under the 14th Amendment.

A 2009 ruling in 2009 by the 7th District Court of Appeals stated, “No one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street."  Simply put, the cameras do not violate the right to privacy


License plate scanners

hit installation snag

Six intersections at various entrances to Manteca have been selected to have license plate scanners.

The City Council in June authorized purchasing 27 license plate scanners from Lehr of Sacramento for $348,645.

Interim City Manager Miranda Lutzow noted municipal staff originally thought they could be installed using in-house staff. That is no longer the case meaning funding will be required to install the scanners properly.

The six intersections are Lathrop Road at Union Road, Lathrop Road at Airport Way, West Louise Avenue at Airport Way, South Main and the 120 Bypass, South Union at the 120 Bypass, and South Airport Way at the 120 Bypass.

The goal is to eventually create a “ring” around the city allowing Manteca Police to capture the plates of all vehicles entering the city.

Each lane entering an intersection will have a scanner. They will take digital photos of the rear of vehicles. The first shot will be of the rear license plate. The second will be of the overall back of the vehicle that tends to have additional identifying items such as bumper stickers and items on the window.

The system Manteca is using is tied into the Vigilant system. The firm currently has 8.1 billion records in its data basis. The city uses Vigilant for the 30 surveillance cameras that were installed last year. Neighboring cities such as Ripon Sacramento and Merced use Vigilant allowing the city to access that data as well.

The system is also designed to allow upgrades to be added by the city at a future date include the capability to secure surveillance video by simply plugging it into the devices being installed on traffic signal cross arms.

Since the view is from the back of the vehicles people in the cars will not be identifiable.

In the advent of a prolonged PG&E outage, the scanners have the ability to store digital scans of 50,000 vehicles. Once power is restored they are then sent by wireless transmission with the flagged plates — those that have been reported stolen or involved with a crime — would be transmitted first.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email