- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

RICHMOND — A Republican lawmaker continues to push for legislation to expand red-light camera programs throughout the state, despite little support from party members who think the program comes close to “Big Brother.”

“I’m not going to give up,” said Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, a Prince William Republican whose bill has been defeated by the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. “How many more people have to die and be injured before the General Assembly does something?”

She has been submitting the bill to the General Assembly since 1999. The farthest it went was to James S. Gilmore’s desk, but the Republican governor at the time vetoed it.

Mrs. McQuigg’s bill would have allowed governments across the state to implement the program, beyond those now in Northern Virginia.

A similar bill by State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, won Senate approval but likely will be killed in the House Transportation Committee in the coming weeks.

The cameras photograph license plates three seconds after the light turns red. A ticket is mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner, who can dispute the ticket. The bills would allow a local government to install cameras after holding a public hearing and erecting signs alerting drivers to the cameras.

Mrs. McQuigg said it was ironic that committee members defeated her bill because they think such cameras are invasive, yet they have no problem with monitors around the statehouse.

“We can protect the safety of the General Assembly, but we’re not willing to protect the safety of the [residents] of the commonwealth,” she said.

Mrs. McQuigg’s bill requires the tickets to be reviewed by police officers, not the company operating the cameras. It also states that the red-light programs must not include quotas, a system that has drawn criticism from those who say the cameras are simply a way to generate revenue.

Unlike camera programs in the District and parts of Maryland, those in Virginia are not profitable.

Fairfax County has spent $1.47 million on the program since 2000 and has yet to break even, said Capt. Jesse Bowman of the county police department’s traffic division.

“We’ve lost money, considerable money,” he said.

However, the District has collected more than $66 million in fines from its automated traffic-enforcement program since installing red-light cameras in 1999 and speeding cameras in 2001.

Fines from the red-light cameras, which are posted at 39 intersections around the city, have generated more than $24.5 million since they were established in August 1999. The speeding, or photo-radar, cameras have generated more than $41.6 million since being installed in 2001.

Such numbers have led AAA Mid-Atlantic and others to make charges of profiteering.

In Alexandria, violations have dropped off “tremendously” since police started the program in late 1997, said Amy Bertsch, police department spokeswoman.

“The city is not generating revenue from this, and that’s not the goal,” she said.

The program has been “very effective” in Arlington County, said Detective John Ritter.

“It would be helpful to have more of them,” he said.

Most officers scoff at the criticism that such cameras make government too invasive.

“If people are obeying the law, they aren’t photographed,” Miss Bertsch said. “This wasn’t Big Brother watching. This was police telling people not to break the law.”

Police officers testifying in the House in support of Mrs. McQuigg’s bill said red-light cameras work because posting officers at intersections is too dangerous and expensive, especially in towns and cities with few resources.

Capt. Bowman of Fairfax County said the program has been a “fantastic success.”

“I’m not after tickets or revenue,” he said. “I want to change driver behavior. We’ve had fewer crashes and fewer violations.”

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