CLEARWATER - Red light runners will soon be seeing more convictions in traffic court, courtesy of a grant received by the Clearwater Police Department (CPD). Clearwater's roads will likely become safer as a result.
In 2001, Clearwater was the first city in Florida to utilize "enforcement lights" at high-crash intersections, enabling a single officer stationed downstream of a traffic light to observe the running of a red light and ticket the violator. CPD claims that the use of the so-called "white lights" at the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay and US 19 resulted in a 50 percent decrease in red light running and an 11 percent decrease in crashes during a three month evaluation period in 2001.
With the use of the "white lights" and Project ZORRO (Zero Opportunities for Running Red light Offenders) enforcement details, CPD has cited more than 350 drivers for red light violations, and reduced the incidence of red light running in the city. But some of the violators pled their case in court, and won. "It's a challenge," said CPD Lt. Nancy Miller, "In traffic court, it's one persons word against another."
But by year-end, CPD intends to improve its red light conviction rate by implementing what it calls the "Red Light Running - In-Car Video Enhancement Project", funded by a $52,000 grant administered by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The in-car video project will equip seven undercover police vehicles with digital video cameras that operate continuously. When the patrol officer activates the emergency lights, the video stream will be saved from a point 30 seconds earlier until the officer turns off the lights, capturing the actual red light running violation as a moving image and providing direct evidence that can be used in court.
CPD Chief Sid Klein explained to the City Council on Monday that he hopes to reduce the occurrence of red light running at Clearwater's most crash-prone intersections five percent by September 2007 by deploying weekly enforcement details using the video-equipped undercover police vehicles. Those intersections include U.S. 19 and Drew Street, U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay, U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road, and Gulf-to-Bay and Belcher Road.
Klein said that his department will initiate a publicity campaign later this year, educating the public on the dangers of red light running and on the actions CPD is taking to reduce its occurrence. Klein said that the campaign, highlighting the use of in-car video, will lead to a reduction in crashes, injuries and deaths that result from drivers running red lights in the City of Clearwater.
Lt. Miller, who is managing the in-car video project for CPD, estimated that the system would be installed by year-end 2006 or early 2007. She's hoping for much more than the 5 percent reduction in red light running mentioned by Chief Klein; "We really want to make an impact," Miller said.
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