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While PBA Obstructs Speed Cams, DC Police Union Shows Support

3:51 PM EDT on April 18, 2013

Although maintaining that cameras "are never going to be a replacement for officers," a prominent police union official told Streetsblog that he strongly supports automated enforcement. "People drive in this town with impunity," he said. "I'll take any help we can get at this point to try and reign in some of the problems."

Unfortunately for New Yorkers, those words came not from Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch, but from Kristopher Baumann, Chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.

In fact, the DC police union has been a strong supporter of the entire automated enforcement program in the District, which also targets red-light running, blocking the box, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and failure to observe stop signs.

At a DC Council hearing last November, Baumann testified against the council's efforts to lower fines for violators caught on camera. He implored the council "not to pander to a bunch of people that can't control themselves behind the wheel and think it's okay to endanger others."

Baumann had tough words for people who oppose traffic enforcement cameras. "If they don't like the automated cameras, follow the rules. Stop endangering other people," he said. "The idea here is not 'gotcha' and we're going to charge money. It is public safety," he added. "These cameras do work."

Since installing speed cameras, DC has seen an 82 percent reduction in speeding that exceeds 10 mph above the limit, according to Richard Retting, the director of safety and research for Sam Schwartz Engineering. Since DC began installing speed cameras, the number of annual traffic fatalities has dropped from 72 in 2001 to 19 last year -- a decline of about 74 percent. In 2011, MPD Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier received an award from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for overseeing the nation's biggest traffic fatality rate drop. In NYC, which has 150 red light cameras but no speed cameras, traffic deaths fell 30 percent in the same period.

The DC police union supports speed cams, according to Baumann, because MPD doesn't have enough manpower to enforce traffic laws without the automated help. "We're not out there to enforce the laws, and when that happens, people start disregarding the laws," Baumann told the council. "That means we have to rely on the cameras."

When Streetsblog asked if he thought the cameras were being used as an excuse not to hire needed officers, Baumann was unequivocal. "No," he said. "I don't think that it's being used as an excuse."

Baumann wouldn't go so far as to question the opposition of his New York counterparts to speed cams. "This is one of these odd positions where I think the PBA is correct, but I also think we're correct," he said, noting that DC does not have a dedicated traffic unit and that while some MPD districts have officers dedicated to traffic enforcement, most do not.

But while NYPD has a Transportation Bureau, which issues the majority of the city's speeding tickets, most are issued along highways, not local streets. NYPD trains only one officer per precinct to operate a speed gun.

Up in Albany, State Senators Marty Golden and Simcha Felder continue to oppose speed cameras, while Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein said he wants the cameras approved this year. Golden, who is strongly associated with the PBA, has introduced legislation to deflect attention from his opposition to the speed camera bill. The bill, which will never pass, would compel NYC DOT to install school zone signage and traffic calming, and does not address speed enforcement. Needless to say, at this point DOT doesn't need legislative coercion to redesign streets for greater safety, but New Yorkers do need Albany to step up and enable the city to save lives with automated enforcement, just like DC has.

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