Questions about red light cameras are once again being raised, after the Tomball City Council recently voted to extend the program for five more years.
City Councilman Field Hudgens was the lone dissenting vote on the issue and said that he prefers the issue be brought to a vote of the citizens.
"I wasn't questioning the legality or constitutionality of the cameras," he said. I want to see the issue decided by the voters of the city."
Opponents of the cameras have often cited privacy concerns and the lack of a clear criminal process as reason to oppose the cameras, while supporters say the numbers prove that the cameras work and that making the punishment merely a civil issue is easier on violators.
"Coming from California where the camera system was entirely punitive, where violations went on your record and you had fines in upwards of $400, I believe the system works better the way it is designed in Texas," Tomball Police Chief Robert Hauck said.
Numbers have shown that since the cameras were turned on, the number of traffic accidents has decreased tremendously.
Before the cameras were installed there were 626 accidents in the city. By 2010 that number had dropped to 322 – a decrease of 49 percent.
"Although red light cameras have contributed to the decrease, they are not the sole factor," said Tomball Police Cpt. Rick Grassi. "There are other reason that we call the three e's of traffic safety – engineering, education and enforcement."
Hauck said the revenue generated from the cameras has allowed the department to enhance other aspect of traffic safety, including adding sidewalks to heavily traveled routes.
"This program and the revenue generated from it has allowed us to enhance our traffic safety enforcement, without providing criminal penalties to violators," he said. "Every ticket an officer writes for a red light violation goes on your record and can cost hundreds of dollars in fines."
Grassi and Hauck said that the cameras are just a tool in the broader spectrum of traffic safety and unlike other cities; Tomball has not tried to turn it into a major revenue generator.
"The City of Tomball has never lost focus on the primary purpose of cameras, which is public safety, not financial compensation," Grassi said.
"We have never come back and tried to make this system into a cash cow by adding more cameras, even though our contract with the vendor says that we can," Hauck said
Hauck also said the cameras are just a part of a broader effort of traffic safety enforcement within the city.
"Adding things like the flashing lights in school zones is something we would not have been able to do," he said.
Hudgens said that he doesn't deny the numbers that support the cameras; however, he believes that the citizens have not been heard.
"It is a volatile topic and it should go to the citizens for a vote," he said.
In order for a vote to happen, a citizen led petition drive must occur, or the city council must agree and vote to add the issue to the ballot.