Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photo Radar and Photo Red light program, by Dennis Gallagher, Denver Auditor

On Monday night, the Denver City Council passed a six-month extension on the contract for the Photo Radar and Photo Red light program.  The intention is, apparently, to use the six months to prepare a new contract that likely will expand the program.
During Council remarks on the extension, I heard a lot of talk about promoting public safety.  I never heard any talk about proving that these two programs actually improve public safety.
In 2011, we conducted an audit of the Photo Radar and Photo Red Light Program.  The audit found that the Denver Police Department had not shown the public safety impact of either program.
It is critically important that both programs be supported with solid Denver-based data, so we do not maintain public policy on the basis of wishes and hope and anecdotal evidence that may not accurately represent Denver driver behavior. To that end, we recommended that it was important to conduct objective analysis and study of both programs to determine their actual impact on improving public safety.
Among the recommendations we made in our original audit, three dealt with study or analysis of the safety impact of the Photo Radar Program and three dealt with study or analysis of the safety impact of the Photo Red Light Program.
Our follow-up work through 2014 indicates that those studies have never taken place.  The Denver Police Department still cannot demonstrate that either program has had a tangible impact on improving public safety.
If they are not having a tangible impact on improving public safety then perhaps other options for that improvement need to be investigated and implemented that might be better at improving public safety.
We also noted that these two programs are generating over $7 Million combined annually.  Because these programs were sold as public safety enhancements but are widely viewed as a ‘cash grab’ by the public, it undermines public trust to maintain photo enforcement programs that are profitable but whose safety impact has not been conclusively shown.
We are all concerned with reducing accidents; protecting the safety of our children in around our public streets; and ensuring that pedestrians are not at risk when they step off the curb and into the street.  However we need to ensure that any program we undertake, does indeed do that.  As I have said, without verifiable and objective data we cannot confirm these programs do that.
It is interesting to note that it is very likely that the Police Department will want to expand each program.   Among our recommendations we stated that the Manager of Safety should not expand either the photo radar of photo stoplight programs until the program’s safety benefits are adequately demonstrated through objective analysis.  The department agreed with the recommendations but did not do either study.  They stated that they would not expand either program.


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