Fairfax police generic

Fairfax County police

Fairfax County officials are pondering a pilot photo-enforcement program to cite drivers speeding in work and school zones.

“We’re not trying to entrap people,” Capt. Alan Hanson, commander of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Traffic Division, told supervisors at their Oct. 4 Public Safety Committee meeting. “What we’re trying to do is to maintain or gain voluntary compliance . . . It’s a tool by which to assist with safety.”

The General Assembly in July 2020 authorized state and local law-enforcement agencies to operate photo speed-monitoring devices in work and school zones. Signs warning drivers of photo speed enforcement must be placed within 1,000 feet of the cameras.

Drivers must be traveling at least 10 mph above the speed limit to be cited – which is similar to county police’s existing speed-enforcement policy – and may be fined no more than $100. The civil penalties do not result in points on their driver’s licenses or affect their auto-insurance rates, officials said.

The county’s Photo Speed Enforcement Work Group, which included personnel from several agencies, recommended that officials begin with a six-month pilot program featuring 10 cameras. Nine of the mobile devices would be placed in school zones and one in a Route 28 work zone.

“We’re not looking at it as a revenue generator, but it’s meant to calm traffic,” Hanson said. “We can move these cameras around to different places to get more bang for our buck.”

The program would use officers on light duty, or off-duty officers on overtime, to access the camera system remotely and approve citations to violators, Hanson said. Drivers could go to court to contest their tickets, he said.

County officials would have two options when contracting vendors for the program. One option, which the work group recommended, would have the county pay a fixed per-camera monthly fee – typically $2,500 to $6,000. This likely would cover a limited number of citations, with additional violations incurring extra processing fees.

Under an alternative plan, the county might be able to pay a fixed processing fee for each citation. Depending on the amount of violations predicted, that fee likely would range between $13 to $25 per citation.

Revenues would go to Fairfax County and be used to support the speed-camera program, he said.

County police last year performed spot assessments in school zones and found a sizable number of speeding violations. Nearly 95 percent of motorists traveling in front of Irving Middle School in Springfield on the selected mornings were exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 mph, he said.

“There’s certainly a need for these cameras,” Hanson said. “We want to see a positive change in regards to people speeding and also to reduce crashes in and around school areas.”

Among the corridors county police would like for photo speed enforcement is Blake Lane in Oakton, where two Oakton High School students on a sidewalk were killed in June by a vehicle that had crashed into another while being driven 81 mph.

The Board of Supervisors tentatively is slated on Nov. 1 to advertise a Dec. 6 public hearing on the speed-camera proposal. If the board approved the initiative, county police would ramp up the program in early 2023.

A draft ordinance would set civil penalties of $50 for violators driving between 10 and 14 mph over the speed limit in the photo-enforcement zones, $75 for those driving between 15 and 19 mph above the limit and $100 for lead-footed motorists whizzing by at 20 mph or more over the limit.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to charging everyone the $100 fine,” said Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee), chairman of the board’s Public Safety Committee. “If you’re speeding in a school zone – right off the bat – fully charge them. Just have them pay 100 percent . . . You’re speeding in the zone, you should not be doing that – period.”

County police are recommending a phased implementation of the cameras, with listed costs based upon an estimated fee of $3,000 per camera per month, plus $918,199 per year for two police officers first class and two master police officers to staff the program.

During the first phase in July to September 2023, police would spread out 50 cameras in school and work zones. Each selected school zone likely would have one or two cameras, Hanson said.

“It’s very challenging for officers to make a safe traffic stop in work zones,” he said, citing for example construction areas on Routes 7 and 28. “So having these devices in these work zones acts where we sometimes can’t.”

This phase would cost about $1.8 million for the cameras and slightly more than $2.7 million per year including staffing expenses. County police would add 30 more cameras in July 2024 for $2.88 million in camera costs and a total yearly expense of nearly $3.8 million, including staffing. The cost estimates did not take into account estimated revenues.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said the program would need to be accompanied by a “very robust” awareness campaign. County police would post warnings 30 days in advance, Hanson said.

County police have disbanded their speed-enforcement team and other specialty units to staff patrol positions, said Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield). “Where are we going to come up with four extra officers?” he asked. County police could try an approach Arlington is considering, which would have a special police officer, not a sworn one, certify the speed-camera citations, Hanson said.

Police also could assign officers on light duty with the task, but Hanson said he preferred to have at least one officer staff the program throughout.

County Executive Bryan Hill expressed confidence that county police would have about 100 more officers on the force by the time supervisors adopt the ordinance. Hill clarified this was not a net figure, i.e., that more officers could depart in the meantime.

[https://sungazette.news provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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