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After a year, tickets for running red lights on the decline

LAWRENCEVILLE - Cameras don't lie.

They've been snapping for a year now at intersections throughout Gwinnett, and the cameras have found a decline in the number of red-light runners in the county.

Of course, it doesn't help red-light runners that local police are using those cameras to send tickets in the mail.

The practice, which has spread across the country, began in Duluth last March.

Since then, four other jurisdictions have begun ticketing, and two more are making preparations to use the technology.

"Obviously, we've got a problem" with red-light running, Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter said. "We're just very pleased with the results. Hopefully, it has made people more conscious. With so many cities using the cameras, it certainly has brought an awareness to the yellow light."

Statistics compiled by the Gwinnett Daily Post show the number of citations per month has steadily declined at many of the lights.

Accident statistics are harder to tally, they say, especially without a full year of statistics to analyze.

But the results have at least two jurisdictions looking into how cameras can help them with another meddlesome traffic offense: speeding.

"It's a lot safer for everybody if we can take a picture and go about our business," said Cpl. Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett police force. Moloney and Snellville's Police Chief Roy Whitehead testified before a Senate committee on the issue last month. "We honestly believe this will improve

safety."

In all, the four jurisdictions have taken in $2 million from the tickets.

Snellville City Manager Jeff Timler said it isn't a revenue boon for the city, even though the city has taken in more than $600,000 since the tickets began in September.

After all, the city will spend more than $330,000 this budget year and $413,000 for a full year just to lease the camera systems.

Then, the city has to have an additional court day, full-time court clerk, part-time judge and solicitor, officers to attend court, postage, envelopes, printing expenses (three months of printer toner at $2,400), and an officer to certify each ticket daily.

"The total cost of this program may be between $500,000 to $600,000 a year," he said.

But because of the danger of pulling over traffic violators and the ability to have cops focusing on about other crimes, Timler and other officials say the technology is about more than money. It's about saving lives.

In Snellville, the city used the photographs to prove who had run the red light in an accident that left a woman in intensive care.

For Assistant Solicitor Rosanna Szabo, the cameras represent a new way of fighting traffic crimes.

If a cop had pulled over a red-light runner and charged the person with a misdemeanor, that is a criminal charge, whereas the camera tickets are civil.

All misdemeanors are treated the same under Georgia law and are actually punishable by up to a year in jail. According to Szabo, that means defendants have a right to a jury trial.

"If you've ever sat in on a jury trial for a minor offense, it feels foolish, and jurors think so too," she said. "A speeding ticket is on the same level as domestic battery.

"I think it's going a step toward decriminalizing petty offenses. Hopefully it will lead toward classification of misdemeanors."

Szabo said it's hard to argue against the ticket.

At traffic court one afternoon, Jee Kong translated for her father, Yoo.

The elder Kong received a ticket in the mail with what appeared to be his wife's license plate on another car.

The car in the photo was a dark Honda, but Kong brought in a photo of his wife's gold Toyota Camry.

Muise dismissed Kong's ticket.

"I think it's a good idea because (police) cannot be there 24 hours," Jee Kong said. "But it doesn't work every time."

Nick Molu wasn't so lucky. He had to pay the $70 fine because he did not know who was driving his car when the violation occurred.

But Molu said he still believed the technology has its benefits.

"I think it's a great tool, but I'm glad it doesn't go on my record," he said. "From a safety point of view, it's great."