It's just a single line on the city's Automated Red Light Enforcement Commission's agenda for Tuesday's meeting: "Program Transition from PWT to DPD." But as it so happens, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle tells Unfair Park, that transition -- getting the city's Safe Light Program out of Public Works and Transportation and into DPD HQ -- took place at the beginning of the month, as a result of the budget cuts and layoffs at Dallas City Hall. The DPD also took over parking enforcement (as in, "enforcing meters in primarily the downtown area," says the chief) and the Crisis Intervention Team, which, Kunkle reminds, "are social workers who do outreach with the homeless downtown."
"The Houston Police Department manages their red-light camera program, and we were involved in the beginning of Dallas's," Kunkle says. "We were already involved in reviewing citations, but we're not going to be involved in the adjudication part of it. We will, however, be involved in the budget and contract side of it."
As you may recall, at the commission's last meeting, in June, it was brought up that the city has spent more than $6 million each year to monitor and maintain the 66 red-light cameras installed in 2007. (At present, DPD says, there are only 57 cameras up and running; the rest are being installed at this very moment.) But Dallas has only pocketed $676,753, after it splits that revenue with the state. In other words, it's the opposite of a money-maker. Mark Duebner, the former director of Business Development and Procurement for the city who moved to DPD earlier this month, reiterates a point made at that meeting: These cameras weren't intended to be ATMs, but accident deterrents.
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"I was involved in getting that initial contract secured, and at the time critics said the cameras would cause an increase in rear-end crashes, because people tend to stop short" when they see the cameras," Duebner says. "All of our crash data, however, says that all types of accidents have been reduced. [And] the signals themselves are a public works function, but if you think about it, DPD tickets people for running red lights. So it makes more sense to be here than it ever did in public works."
Raul Magdaleno, chair of the red light commisison and the diversity outreach honcho in the SMU dean's office, says that one thing he'd like to see from the transition to the DPD is a way to make it easier for drivers to deal with their red-light tickets.
"One of the complaints I hear is that people are given runaround" when they try to dispute their tickets, he tells Unfair Park. "I wanted to know what are we doing to better serve our customers. So we're going to talk about that. I want people to know, if you get a ticket, this is what you need to do -- a 1-2-3 process that will make it easier to handle disputes over red-light enforcement. No more: 'So you need to go to so-and-so.' And Mark is very supportive of this -- in fact, he was the one who initially brought it up. And having it in DPD makes more sense. The tickets that are being issued now, sometimes some of them may fall through the cracks, and now it's the department issuing the tickets."
To which Duebner adds, "The commission has asked us how we can improve communication -- to get this information to everyone in Englush and Spanish. But now that the program is up and running, it isn't difficult to manage."