Cameras help catch red light runners in act

Armed with video dash-cams, officers stake out risky intersections.

Published May 26, 2007

CLEARWATER - About 12:15 on a sunny day in March, a man driving a beige sedan pulled up to the intersection at Fort Harrison Avenue and Turner Street.

The light was red, and he was late for work.

Inch by inch, he slowly passed the white stop line, eventually darting out to make a left turn onto Turner.

Seconds later, Clearwater police Officer Jeff Richardson pulled the man over.

The man denied running the red light, even going to court to fight the $182.50 ticket.

But Richardson, who had been sitting at the same intersection in an unmarked police car, had the whole incident on video.

"I showed the judge the video, and he was found guilty, " Richardson said.

For nearly six months, Richardson and a handful of other Clearwater traffic officers have used video dash-cams to catch motorists who run red lights.

The video cameras are equipped with a special pre-recording feature. When a car runs a red light, all an officer has to do is push a button, and everything recorded in the previous 30 seconds will be saved to a file.

"Our overall objective is to reduce accidents at the top four most dangerous intersections in Clearwater, " said Lt. Nancy Miller, traffic commander.

Those intersections are U.S. 19 and Drew Street; U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard; U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road; and Belcher Road at Gulf-to-Bay.

What's more, all four intersections were among Pinellas County's five worst intersections for crashes for three consecutive years - 2002, 2003 and 2004.

"We'd like to get off that list. That's not a list we want to be on, " said Janet Skinner, who wrote the grant request to secure funding for the project.

Seven unmarked cars have been equipped with the cameras, thanks to a $52, 000 grant from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The program been so successful that the department is submitting a request for another 10 cameras.

As of Tuesday, police had issued 613 red light citations at the four key intersections this year.

"The most surprising thing has been how blatant people are, " said Officer Randy Bodle.

In a 15-minute span, Bodle saw several drivers who barely made it through the intersection on a yellow light and one obvious red-light runner on Friday afternoon as he watched at U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

With the holiday weekend approaching, the department will be making an even bigger push to get the message out: If you're going to run a red light, don't do it in Clearwater.

"We don't want to make people fearful, but if that's what it takes to get people to stop running these lights ..., " Miller said. "It's not about writing tickets. It's to get them to stop."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4158.