“We don’t have time to wait for a sworn officer to read the ticket. It doesn’t make sense.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, City Commissioner
Citing “skyrocketing” traffic deaths, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty testified at the Oregon Legislature Thursday in support of a bill that would allow her transportation bureau to more quickly process photo radar camera citations.
House Bill 4105 would give Oregon cities a new option for who can review and authorize photographs of red light runners and speeders caught by automated traffic cameras. Current Oregon law requires that a police officer must do this job. HB 4105, sponsored Happy Valley Democrat Jeff Reardon, would give cities the option of having a “traffic enforcement agent” do the job (or they could have a mix of police officers and civilian agents).
Supporters of the bill say the police oversight requirement is unnecessary, expensive and causes major processing delays.
Rep. Reardon told fellow lawmakers (including Committee Chair Barbara Smith Warner who is married to PBOT Director Chris Warner) at the bill’s first hearing Thursday that the cameras have been successful in reducing speeding and crashes and that, “We should look to keep costs low and put our police officers to work doing what they’ve been trained to do,” instead of, “sitting behind a computer checking the photos.”
Commissioner Hardesty cited the major spike in deaths outlined in PBOT’s 2021 Traffic Crash Report and told the committee, “We need to act urgently and use every tool available to reverse this trend… we don’t have time to wait for a sworn officer to read the ticket. It doesn’t make sense.”
In 2019 and 2020 there were 72,304 enforcement camera cases filed with Multnomah County. As reported by Willamette Week in 2019, the mandatory use of a police officer to review camera photographs has caused severe delays in the City of Portland’s ability to expand their traffic camera program.
Here’s more from Hardesty’s testimony:
“Today police officers must perform this review and this creates a bottleneck that will keep us from adding much needed cameras into our system. In the face of current and projected police staffing shortages, as well as increased calls for emergency responses, demand for law enforcement and resources is at an all-time high. We need the option of having trained certified agents to take on some of the administrative burden of reviewing and signing tickets.”
PBOT Traffic Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman also testified at the hearing. She said the new administrative position of “traffic enforcement agent” would be trained and modeled after PBOT’s existing team of parking enforcement officers (who are under the leadership of PBOT’s Parking Enforcement Manager Mike Crebs, a former captain of the PPB’s (now defunct) Traffic Division). The new agents would undergo mandatory training and would be appointed and sworn-in by the city.
Dickman underscored the need for more citation processing resources by telling Rules Committee members that PBOT’s current system with just 18 cameras (10 red light cameras and eight speed cameras) is “very small for the size of our city” and that in order to get their planned 40 cameras online they need to remove the police staffing bottleneck, “to get this lifesaving tool in more places.” Dickman also said using non-police agents would significantly reduce the cost of the program because all ticket review is currently done on police overtime.
Police staffing issues aren’t the only problem for PBOT’s camera program. Commissioner Hardesty told BikePortland in December that she was so frustrated with the late delivery times of the City’s current camera vendor, Conduent, she considered “firing” them. “I know supply delays are a big issue all around everywhere, but this particular vendor has been extremely unresponsive.” Hardesty didn’t mention her feelings about the vendor in a statement on HB 4105 released on Thursday and only blamed delays of their outstanding camera order on “supply chain delays.”
None of the House Rules Committee members expressed opposition to the bill Thursday, but it was only the first reading and no vote was taken. A work session on the bill is scheduled for February 8th.
This is the second session in a row lawmakers have considered this legislation. The 2021 effort, HB 3357, didn’t make it out of committee.
CORRECTION, 12:53 pm: This story originally said the civilian traffic enforcement agents would need to be sworn in by a law enforcement agency. That was incorrect because the language was recently changed in the -1 amendment to read that the agent will be sworn in by, “the governing body of the incorporated city.” I regret any confusion the error caused.