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The city of Longview issued 456 tickets to red-light runners in the first 30 days after it installed cameras to enforce traffic rules at three Ocean Beach Highway intersections, the city said this week.

That's more than double the 194 red-light tickets that Longview police issued citywide in all of 2010, the city said.

City officials said the data shows that the pilot program, which began Feb. 14, is necessary to curb the high volume of drivers violating traffic laws in the city.

"It tells me we have a problem with traffic control," said Mayor Kurt Anagnostou, who had been skeptical about the program but said he is warming to it. "These people are just blowing through the intersections."

During the same 30-day period, the city issued 426 speeding tickets to drivers caught by cameras violating school zone speed laws in front of Columbia Valley Gardens and Mint Valley elementary schools.

The data was provided to The Daily News this week in a letter responding to a public information request about the program.

The tickets raised $53,328 in revenues, the city reported. That amount does not include the 303 tickets dismissed last month because of a clerical error on the part of the camera company. The total suggests that over time the revenues will cover the $57,000 the city pays each month for the 12 cameras monitoring intersections and school zones.

In addition, as of April 4, the camera program had raised $15,840 for a new traffic safety fund that could be used to fund driver safety improvements or perhaps additional police officers.

As of April 4, 48 people had contested citations issued through the camera program, according to the city.

Police Chief Alex Perez said he wasn't surprised by the number of tickets generated by the cameras. He referred to the cameras as "24-hour sentinels" that can monitor intersections far more efficiently than regular officer patrols.

"We just can't match that technology with human power," Perez said.

Still, a group of Longview residents have joined up with state activist Tim Eyman to put a measure on the ballot that would kill the traffic camera program.

On Friday, Mike Wallin, a Longview resident helping with the anti-camera effort, said his group has collected about 1,700 of the 2,700 signatures necessary to force a public vote on the cameras.

Wallin said he wasn't surprised by the number of violations. But he said he believes the city's primary goal is to make money off the cameras, not improve public safety. Extending the time that lights are yellow, programming signals so all lights at an intersection are red for a brief period and increasing police patrols would cut down on the number of wrecks at dangerous intersections, he said.

"Law enforcement should be enforcing those things, not some automated cameras," he said.

Perez said he expects the number of violations to decline as word gets out about the cameras. In the meantime, he said, the cameras free officers to focus on other enforcement duties.

The council is contracting with American Traffic Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., to provide the cameras on an 18-month pilot-program basis.


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