In the midst of Tennessee legislators' attempt to ban red-light and speeding cameras, a company wants to provide Memphis Police officers with handheld speed guns to help suppress accidents and fatalities.
Last Tuesday, St. Louis-based firm Automated Transportation Enforcement Solutions (ATES): Traffic Solutions presented a proposal to city council's Public Safety Committee regarding its LIDAR speed guns.
The devices would allow Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers to use a speed detector boasting a laser, camera, and automated ticketing device. Officers would be able to shoot the license plates of speeding drivers — even in areas with heavily congested traffic — and store their information. This would lower the amount of drivers that officers have to pursue and manually issue a citation.
"I don't see this as anything other than a public safety enhancement of the MPD," said John Baine, vice president of marketing for ATES: Traffic Solutions. "It's not impersonal, like a pole in the ground that says a metal mass is speeding. It gives the officers discretion and opportunity."
If approved, the LIDAR guns would possibly be targeted for use in areas with high pedestrian activity, such as school zones, construction zones, and parks.
Before moving forward on the proposal, the city council plans on getting feedback from the MPD, specifically, whether they think the devices could help their public safety efforts.
Baine said the city would not be charged for the speed guns. Around 60 percent of proceeds from the speeding tickets would go to the city. The exact amount is uncertain.
The indeterminate split is something that didn't sit well with Councilman Berlin Boyd.
"[We would be] depending on this company to pay the city a certain dollar amount that's unknown," Boyd said. "In business, there are certain things that you should come prepared for. If you're making a presentation, people want to know cost, if there will be any ultimate gains or benefits, and how much money we will receive from the actual ticket."
According to City Court Clerk Thomas Long's office, since November 2009, red-light camera citations have produced more than $10.8 million in revenue. Of that amount, the city of Memphis received 40 percent.
Tennessee is one of several states where legislators have proposed bills to outlaw traffic cameras. A compromise version of the Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee last Wednesday. It's tentatively slated for vote by the full Senate Thursday.
The bill would extend yellow signal times to six seconds at intersections with cameras. Speeding tickets would only be issued for driving 15 miles or more over the posted speed limit.
Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said red-light cameras cause more safety problems than they reduce.
Harris said he's not opposed to city law enforcement receiving new handheld speed guns but thinks deploying more officers in the community is a better way to deal with public safety issues.
"If you want to promote more public safety on your street, hire more police officers," Harris said. "I don't have any problem with making sure our officers have all the tools available, including cameras, to do their job. The point is, let's put it in the hands of police officers and not an out-of-state company whose legal duty is to make as much money as possible."