- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona Senate committee gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation that would ban the use of photo radar statewide, despite pleas from several police departments to block the bill.

The proposal by Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, is one of three targeting photo radar proposed in the Legislature in what has become an annual effort to get rid of electronic ticketing. Cities and towns have managed to beat back the proposals in recent years.

Ward said she believes photo radar violates the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches. She also questioned studies cited by photo radar backers that the electronic ticketing systems improve safety are suspect.

“There’s actually studies out there that show that some of those cameras make things less safe, more accidents in those intersections where there are cameras,” Ward said in an interview.

Representatives of the Mesa, Chandler and Phoenix police departments urged members of the Senate public safety committee to kill the proposal, saying traffic cameras have dramatically improved safety at intersections and schools zones, for examples. Cities use both red light and speed enforcement cameras in Arizona.

Matt Giordano, a Phoenix police lieutenant who oversees the department’s photo enforcement operations, cited studies that showed accidents at Phoenix intersections equipped with red light cameras dropped by 48 percent once cameras were installed.

“I’m not here to tell you that photo enforcement did that 100 percent,” Giordano told the committee. “I’m just saying this is one tool that we use and from my perspective and the city of Phoenix’s perspective I ask that you continue to allow us to use it.”

Testimony from members of the public skewed heavily against the programs.

“What we want is sworn peace enforcement officers enforcing the laws in Arizona, not a private for-profit company making a profit on it,” said Shawn Dow, an anti-photo enforcement activist.

The bill passed Senate public safety committee on a 5-1 vote, getting support from four Republicans and one Democrat. Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, opposed the proposal, saying he had lost a sister in a traffic accident and would not vote to remove a tool police use to make streets safer.

“I understand the arguments, I see both sides, but at the end of the day I put the safety of the public first,” Contreras said.

Senate Bill 1167 now moves to the Senate floor after a routine constitutional review.

Two other bills targeting photo radar have been introduced in the House. House Bill 2564 by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, requires a sworn officer to review tickets before they are issued instead of a contractor and has yet to have a hearing. The other, House Bill 2221 by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, prevents license suspensions because of a missed photo radar court date.

Mesnard’s bill passed a House committee unanimously on Tuesday. He said it is designed to ensure that someone who hasn’t been served with a ticket can’t lose their license.

Photo radar use also has come up away from the Statehouse. A two-year state-run highway photo enforcement program championed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano ended when Gov. Jan Brewer allowed the contract to expire in 2010. Voters in Sierra Vista banned its use in November by a wide margin, and some cities have stopped using it in recent years amid a public outcry.

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