This article was originally published by the Wichita Eagle newspaper on November 10, 2017

Reaction mixed to Old Town camera traffic enforcement

By Kaitlyn Alanis

The 97 cameras in Old Town were designed to make people feel safer, but now that the cameras are being used for traffic enforcement, reaction is mixed.

The president of the Old Town Association said he hopes it will make the area safer for pedestrians.

But for Aubrey Campbell, an employee at Pure Salon and Spa in Old town, the cameras have provided a source of stress.

“It honestly, if anything, makes me afraid to come to work,” she said. “I’m paranoid of getting pulled over for a minor, minor traffic violation … I don’t feel safer.”

Campbell was under the impression that cameras would be used only for crimes such as break-ins, fights and shootings.

But when one of her coworkers at Pure Salon and Spa was pulled over for an improper lane change, she realized the cameras were being monitored by officers for more than just night and weekend crimes.

“That’s not helping anything, that’s just, if anything, out to get money,” she said.

While Campbell does not feel safer during the day, she does appreciate the 24/7 security surveillance — especially at night.

“I do live down here as well … and at night, yes I feel safer,” she said. “But during the day with the random traffic things … that doesn’t make me feel safe at all.”

Noemi Ziad works just a couple businesses down from Campbell at Old Town Mexican Restaurant.

She is a little worried that camera-based traffic enforcement will deter people from dining in Old Town, especially after she saw four people pulled over in Old Town on Wednesday.

In just one special traffic enforcement between 9 to 11 a.m. on Nov. 2, 88 violations were witnessed on camera, 55 tickets were issued and four warnings were given.

Ziad also was pulled over after her improper left-hand turn was caught on camera.

Despite all the citations, Ziad does appreciate the extra sense of security that the cameras provide.

“I feel safer,” she said. “Now I’m not worried about my car getting broken into.”

In September, the Old Town camera system helped officers identify and arrest a suspect after a 1 a.m. assault in Old Town.

Legality of the cameras

Some have wondered about the legality of using cameras to identify traffic violations, but officer Charley Davidson said there is no difference between violations caught in person and those caught on camera.

“Like any assignment, officers have to be able to testify that the car they stopped did that violation,” he said, mentioning that officers also have access to the cameras in their patrol cars.

The cameras can zoom in close enough to read a license plate. Officers who pull over drivers are typically no more than two blocks away from where the traffic violation occurred, Davidson said.

Jess Hoeme, criminal attorney with Joseph Hollander & Craft, said the officer who cites you for a violation does not need to be the same officer who saw the violation.

“They are considered one in the same in issuing violations,” he said.

But when it comes to court, officers will still have to prove that they cited the driver who committed the violation.

“So that’s not to say they will get a guilty verdict on every one of them,” he said. “They must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt. If not, it doesn’t mean it was a bad citation, it just means there was not enough proof.”

The more identifiable your car, the stronger the officer will be able to testify, Hoeme said.

“If an officer is watching and sees a pink Cadillac roll through a stop sign and calls it in to his colleague, the other officer can make contact with the driver and that’s easy,” he said. “But if it’s a white, four door, there will need to be other facts and circumstances to provide confidence that they stopped the right vehicle.”

Old Town Association’s perspective

Jason Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association, did not know the cameras would be used for traffic enforcement, but he is OK with it.

“I didn’t originally know, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” he said. “It helps officers who have to do a lot with patrolling, and quite frankly, it has been too easy over the years to go too fast up and down the one ways in the area.”

Van Sickle said he is not worried that camera-based traffic enforcement will deter people from dining and shopping in Old Town. He is hopeful people will drive safer, thus making it safer for pedestrians in Old Town.

“I think most people that come to Old Town are coming down to enjoy their time and aren’t the type of people who won’t go there because they might get caught running lights or stop signs,” he said. “People who live and work and shop here abide laws and aren’t worried about that.”

But it is not just about traffic enforcement, he said.

Van Sickle is excited about the state-of-the-art equipment monitoring Old Town at all times of the day.

“I don’t see how you can get away with crime in Old Town now,” he said. “If you get in a fight, try to steal from the businesses, it’s an incredibly high likelihood that you will be caught on camera. Once police know what you look like, they are going to catch you.”

A City Council member’s perspective

Janet Miller was a City Council member when the cameras were approved in February.

She said council members spent little time talking about using the cameras for traffic enforcement. Rather, most of the conversation was spent focused on using the cameras for crimes including fights and break ins.

“We certainly knew (traffic enforcement) was in the realm of possibility,” she said.

Miller said she believes traffic enforcement is a beneficial use for the cameras that were paid for through a general fund.

“The No. 1 complaint council members receive is lack of traffic enforcement,” she said. “It’s a big problem — people running red lights, not stopping at stop lights, speeding, blocking pedestrian crosswalks.”