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PHOTO RADAR IS NEEDED, W.V. OFFICIAL SAYS

With Gov. Norm Bangerter vetoing a bill recently that would have restricted the use of photo radar to school zones, police and prosecutors expect photo radar to become increasingly more common.

And as use of photo radar increases, so will arguments about the pros and cons of the system.Last week at the State and Local Government Conference at the Seven Peaks Resort in Provo, Keith Stoney, prosecutor for West Valley City, told state leaders and local attorneys why West Valley feels photo radar is an effective law enforcement tool. Rep. Daniel Tuttle, R-West Valley City, who sponsored the bill to limit photo radar to school zones, explained why legislators felt the system needs to be limited.

Stoney said police functions are the basic functions of a municipality and state government should not be telling local police how to monitor their streets. He believes most people support the system and said those who don't are either violators or don't know the facts.

"This was not something West Valley City came up with on its own," Stoney said. "A majority of the people asked for this and support it."

Tuttle said legislators became concerned about photo radar because of the number of complaints they received about the unfairness of the system and its inaccuracies. Many of these complaints were not being adequately addressed by local leaders, he said.

"The state giveth and the state can take away," Tuttle said.

Most problems occur when the owner is not the one driving the car or the person in the picture is not identifiable, Stoney said. In most cases, however, the evidence is strong. About 20 cases in West Valley have gone to trial and the city has only lost twice. In cases where the evidence is not clear prosecutors are not enforcing the violation, Stoney said.

The system is not intended to deceive or entrap drivers, Stoney said. Signs are placed throughout West Valley warning drivers that photo radar is used. Only about 2.5 percent of drivers who pass by photo radar are ticketed.

"The system doesn't even take a picture unless the driver is going at least 11 mph over the limit," Stoney said. "We're going after the flagrant violators only."

The main purpose of the system is to slow down drivers and to decrease accidents, Stoney said. Since West Valley began using the system its accident rate has decreased about 30 percent.

Tuttle said using photo radar to catch speeders reduces an officer's effectiveness in detecting other traffic violations. Many traffic violations go unnoticed until an officer stops a driver for speeding, he said.

"If you take a picture of a drunken driver that's all you've got," Tuttle said.

Many critics of photo radar say the system is just a way for cities to make more money. However, Stoney said West Valley is making nothing off of photo radar. On a $50 ticket, West Valley collects about $19 and other state agencies get the rest. The city passes its share on to PhotoCop Systems, the developer of photo radar.

Tuttle said he believes money is the driving force behind photo radar.

"If it's not a money issue, then why did they say it was not worth they're time to operate it in school zones only?" Tuttle asked.