Red light cams: If you’re not in the pic, it’s not legit

Hayward’s police chief is working to fix a hole in the system regarding red-light cameras, one that allows some violators to get away without paying a $300  ticket (that’s what they cost these days, right?) simply by doing nothing.

It comes down to the difference between a Notice to Appear and a Notice of Violation. The former is what a driver gets when they sail through a red light, the camera flashes and upon review it’s clear as day that the registered owner of the vehicle is indeed behind the wheel. Out of 1,560 drivers caught on camera each month, about 500 get one of these notices.

"I sense something, a presence I've not felt since......." (FLASH!) “…. NOOOOO!!!”

A Notice of Violation, on the other hand, is asking the owner for a little help in identifying the driver. Maybe it’s a friend or relative, or the photo was snapped while  the driver was headed to a Star Wars-themed Halloween party, or maybe it was a rental or company car and only a search of records would reveal who did the deed. About 730 violators get one of these. And of these, 250 just ignore the notice.

It’s fairly labor intensive to investigate each case where the notice isn’t returned — it involves pulling DMV photos of relatives and people living at the vehicle owner’s address, comparing them with the RedFlex photo, that sort of stuff. About 62 hours of staff time per month, it’s estimated. And that’s staff time that can be spent elsewhere, on other police work, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. “Due to limited staffing, non-responses are not being processed,” according to the PowerPoint presentation given to the City Council on Tuesday.

But Chief Diane Urban is working to change that.

Urban suggests a restructuring of the staff that reviews the violations, using two community service officers and a per diem officer to do more work for less money than the current setup, which includes one full-time sworn officer and a CSO. That would allow better pursuit of those scofflaws who don’t return tickets, for a gain — between saved staff salary and additional fines collected — of about $14,700 a month. Right now the program brings the city about $10,700 per month – the real money maker is RedFlex, the company the city rents the cameras from. The city pays them about $59,000 monthly.

And a sworn officer would then be put back on the streets, which Urban says is the best use for someone with a badge anyway.

As a side note, the chief said they are in the process of changing the way they deploy traffic officers, with an emphasis on the areas around the 10 intersections in the city most prone to crashes. She said a similar effort she spearheaded in San Jose yielded a 22 percent reduction in crashes overall. Some of those notable intersections: Foothill at Grove. Hesperian at A. Tennyson between Patrick and Tampa. Santa Clara and Jackson.

Eric Kurhi