In the final analysis, guilt may have more to do with slowing speeding drivers than the radar cameras employed to catch people who drive too fast in Garland.
"With this `photo radar,' there's a psychological element: `I'm going to slow down because I don't know if they're going to be taking pictures today,' " said Garland Mayor Andy Funk.Whatever the reason, Funk says use of the technology is making drivers think twice about speeding in the Box Elder County community of 1,800 people. Since the city started using the equipment on a trial basis last November, the average speed in the targeted school zone has been shaved by nearly 10 mph.
Garland Police Chief Bruce Johnson credits radar cameras with boosting the manpower of the town's tiny police force, consisting of Johnson and two part-time officers.
"On the days we use it, it's picked up our productivity and enforcement capacity by 1 1/2 officers at no expense to Garland City," Johnson said. That's why Funk and Johnson are wary of a bill before the Utah Senate that would limit the use of "photo-radar" equipment.
"We ought to be going slow and limit the use so there aren't abuses and so the public can be aware of it and not just get 10 citations in the mail. What I'm trying to do is set safeguards so it doesn't get abused," said Sen. Alarik Myrin, R-Altamont, sponsor of SB59.
The bill would limit the use of radar cameras to school zones and documented speed-related accident zones. The bill would require that warning signs be posted in the areas the radar is used and that the equipment is used by a certified police officer.
The Senate Transportation Committee postponed action on the bill Tuesday to allow lobbyists more time to define their positions or possible amendments.
Opponents of SB59 say Myrin has not given the technology a chance to work in Utah. Police departments in West Valley City, Sandy and Layton have experimented with the radar cameras. Garland has used the equipment for enforcement purposes, and West Valley plans to lease the service some time this year.
Garland leases the service from Traffic Safety Technologies Inc. of Murray, which provides a certified radar instructor who operates the equipment, prints and mails the citations. The radar operator also will testify in court as an expert witness.
The company receives a percentage of the fines collected for each speeding conviction. So far, the city has mailed only 41 citations to speeding drivers, even though the radar camera has "busted" literally hundreds of drivers, Johnson said.
"We only use it two days a month , but it's making people stop and think about driving a car while they're driving a car," Johnson said.
West Valley Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt said he also is impressed with how the equipment frees up officers for more pressing matters.
"If we have a problem, we don't have enough manpower to deal with it if we have officers working traffic. If this bill passes, our ability to deal with that problem would be greatly restricted," Nordfelt said.
Traffic Safety Technologies Inc. president David Kenney said he believes the technology should be given a chance to work before it is burdened with unnecessary regulation.
"The general impression is the bill is premature," Kenney said.
Myrin said he understands the advantages of the equipment, but he doesn't want it abused as a revenue source. The bill also would preclude any financial arrangements between the cities and equipment lessors that hinge on the number of tickets produced.
Although Garland City and police officials have attempted to make clear that the equipment has been used only three times, some residents believe the "photo-radar" has been mounted on a post or a stop sign to photograph motorists when they least expect it.
"That's not the case. You don't put $80,000 worth of equipment on a phone pole," said Funk. The technology has been used in Europe for the past 20 years.
"The number one complaint we're getting from this is from people getting caught," Johnson said.