SALEM — Police Chief Paul Tucker says the "No. 1 complaint" he receives from residents is over traffic, especially drivers speeding and running red lights or stop signs.
Tucker and Mayor Kim Driscoll are in favor of an idea they say may help quell some of the city's traffic troubles: the use of "traffic control signal violation monitoring systems" — red-light cameras.
"Anything we can do to encourage people to drive more safely and to obey traffic signals and signs is a positive," Tucker said. "If it's going to get motorists to comply, I'm all for it. I can't put a police officer at every intersection."
The idea has yet to be discussed by the City Council. The proposal would need approval by the council and the state Legislature, in the form of a home rule petition.
Driscoll sent a letter in support of the idea and a draft home rule petition to the City Council. On Feb. 9, the council voted to send the issue to the Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment, which has yet to schedule its next meeting.
Traffic enforcement with cameras should be "particularly helpful" in Salem, Driscoll wrote in her letter to the council, because the city is a tourist destination, home to a university and regional court system.
The City Council adopted a similar petition for cameras in the spring of 2007, but the Legislature "failed to act on it," Driscoll wrote.
If the cameras are approved, Tucker said he would work with a vendor to identify problem intersections where cameras could be effective. Specifics on what type of system the city would use are yet to be determined.
The basics, however, is that a camera would capture the image of a license plate on a vehicle that goes through a solid red light, Tucker said.
"It's been tried in many other states and statistics will show that compliance by motorists increases when cameras are in place," he said.
Driscoll and Tucker agree the camera system would be self-funding — revenue generated by the violations and fees the system produces would cover its cost.
"This pays for itself," Tucker said. "For the city to have to lay out capital for these cameras and computer system would be difficult, considering the budget we have."
However, Tucker said the idea was suggested purely as a "safety enhancement," not as a revenue generator.
Even though the City Council has yet to discuss the issue, council President Joan Lovely said she has already received email from a citizen concerned that red-light cameras will cause an increase in traffic accidents.
Lovely said she has just started to look into the pros and cons of the issue and has yet to form an opinion.
When the Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment takes up the issue, the meeting will be co-posted as a meeting of the entire council so all members can participate in discussion, Lovely said.
The Salem Police Department already has a series of surveillance cameras that were installed for law enforcement purposes, such as monitoring crowds, Tucker said. Cameras monitor the Common, waterfront, downtown, and the intersection of Bridge and Washington Streets.
Those cameras are unrelated to the proposed red-light cameras, Tucker said. They don't monitor traffic, so the city did not need to go through the home rule petition process.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT
Details from a proposed home rule petition to allow "traffic violation monitoring systems," or red light cameras, in Salem. The proposal will need approval from the City Council and state Legislature.
Devices can be mobile or fixed along any city street, and the city can impose penalties to the owner of a vehicle that does not comply with local traffic laws.
Each intersection with a camera will be marked with signs indicating cameras are in use.
The city will do a "public awareness campaign" about the program at least 30 days before cameras are put in use.
The maximum penalty is $100 for violations recorded by cameras.
Penalties will not go on a driver's operating record or add points to insurance coverage.
Salem's parking clerk will issue violations, which can be appealed, by mail.
Reasons for violations to be waived include: if it was necessary to allow an emergency vehicle to pass; it was during a funeral procession; the person receiving the violation was not the driver (such as if a vehicle was reported stolen).
If a vehicle has two or more outstanding violations, the city can tow or put an immobilizing device on a vehicle, at the owner's expense, until all fines are paid.
The city will submit an annual report on the cameras to the state Department of Transportation.