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Camera Shy

July 25, 2010, 10:00 PM by Perry Groten

Camera Shy
SIOUX FALLS, SD - It's been more than three weeks since the city of Sioux Falls pulled the plug on the red light cameras at 10th and Minnesota amid legal challenges to the ticketing process. You'll be seeing more police officers at the busy intersection now that the city no longer patrols it electronically. We find out how this human touch is reaching out to red light violators.

An intersection where cameras once had an unblinking view of traffic has given way to the low-tech gaze of police patrols.

"Officers are traversing that intersection every single day, multiple times," Lt. Jerome Miller of the Sioux Falls Police Dept. said.

But patrolmen working from one shift to the next, can't devote the same amount of time as the round-the-clock surveillance once provided by the now-defunct red light cameras.

"There are so many lanes and so many different ways a violation can occur, to have any one or two officers sit there and observe those, it's a lot more difficult, without a doubt," Miller said.

With parking at a premium at 10th and Minnesota, police are making the most of limited space for their patrols.

"It's difficult to find a place to put a squad car, without a doubt, so you'll probably see motor officers out there, sitting somewhere or maybe you won't see the motor officers sitting there, but he's still going to be there, you can bet on that," Miller said.

The cameras kept red light runners in check during the six years they operated. The number of violations dropped from a high of 1,000 a month down to around 300 a month. But police don't expect to see a dramatic rise in violations now that the cameras have stopped snapping pictures.

"I would certainly like to think that the citizens of Sioux Falls and our visitors would want to stop just for the sake of the safety aspect alone," Miller said.

Lt. Miller's traffic assessment held true during the time we spent at 10th and Minnesota. After 15 minutes, plenty of traffic went by, but no violations. A half-hour later, still no lights and sirens. Finally, after 45 minutes, the patrol officer was in hot pursuit. But he wasn't chasing down a car that blew a red light. Instead, it was a man on the sidewalk, who crossed the intersection against the lights.

The red light cameras were never programmed to catch jaywalkers. But now that police are patrolling this intersection, they expect to catch a lot more pedestrians crossing against the lights and walking their way toward a ticket.

"An officer there and he observes a violation, if a pedestrian walks out in front of traffic and that's a violation, yeah, I would say it would be safe to assume that they would get a ticket for that, too," Miller said.

In this case, the officer didn't issue a ticket, only a warning. But police say they'll be just as tough on pedestrians who break the law as they are on drivers. After all, it's just as hazardous to be on foot at a busy intersection as it is behind the wheel when the lights aren't in your favor. And while police prepare to begin school patrols soon, they're adding 10th and Minnesota to their growing list of responsibilities, confident in overseeing safe travels, whether it's on the street, or in the crosswalk.

With the cameras gone, running a red light at 10th and Minnesota will be considered a misdemeanor, not a civil penalty. That means any ticket will go on your driving record, and boost your insurance premiums. Plus, as of July 1, the fine went up to $120.

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