Wichita Police Department employee Erika Cepeda monitors Old Town cameras in the City Hall security surveillance center. Dion Lefler Eagle file photo
Wichita Police Department employee Erika Cepeda monitors Old Town cameras in the City Hall security surveillance center. Dion Lefler Eagle file photo

Politics & Government

Wichita to rethink candid-camera traffic tickets in Old Town

By Dion Lefler

dlefler@wichitaeagle.com

November 20, 2017 07:00 AM

After a firestorm of criticism, Wichita will likely dial back its use of candid-camera security video for writing tickets for minor traffic violations in Old Town, the city manager said.

The controversial video tickets were part of a pilot program in the use of the new equipment. The pilot program is ending after about three weeks, and City Manager Robert Layton said he’ll meet with Police Chief Gordon Ramsay this week to discuss how to use the camera system going forward.

The new 70-camera network gives police observers in City Hall nearly 100 percent video coverage of the popular bar and nightlife district.

“If I have any say in this, we’ll reduce their use to what should be an appropriate level of enforcement,” Layton said. “And that is if we see significant pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.”

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Layton said the purpose isn’t to generate ticket revenue, but to help ensure public safety.

“If we see poor driving habits that are going to result in either accidents or the threat of accidents, then we’ll probably step it up again,” he said.

The police chief reports to the city manager but generally is given broad autonomy to run the department. Ramsay did not return a phone message seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Old Town business interests initially lauded the installation of the $700,000 network of cameras as a way to combat violence and vehicle burglary.

But the enthusiasm waned when it became clear that police were using the system to write tickets for relatively minor infractions such as turning across lanes and not completely stopping at stop signs.

Some said they felt singled out because Old Town is the only place in Wichita with live saturation camera coverage.

Monitors watching the incoming video at City Hall’s surveillance center would report violations they observed to officers on the ground in Old Town, who would then stop the motorists and issue citations.

The officer writing the ticket generally would not have witnessed the violation; the infractions were recorded on video.

“I don’t think you’re going to see that as a long-term enforcement tool,” Layton said. “It was only meant to be a pilot, so I didn’t think that it would get as much attention as it did and I think it’s been misunderstood in terms of how it’s going to be used and how we’re going to enforce going forward.”

However, he did say police plan to step up traffic enforcement citywide.

Traffic took a back seat to other crime during the recession, which generated numerous complaints from residents who felt threatened by bad drivers, Layton said.

“Whether that’s on Kellogg, whether it’s some of our main arterials, we have not had a robust traffic enforcement for the last several years,” he said.

Now, the city is rebuilding its police traffic unit and “you’re going to see a more serious traffic enforcement effort throughout the community,” Layton said.

Cameras will be part of the increased enforcement, he said.

“Should that be the predominant tool for enforcement in Old Town and downtown? Probably not,” Layton said. “But does it have a role, just like motorcycle police and radar enforcement?

“They’re all tools, in order to be able to improve traffic safety and pedestrian safety, and that’s to me the most important thing.”

Wichita police are using cameras installed in the Old Town area for traffic enforcement. The cameras are monitored from the 5th floor of City Hall. (Travis Heying)

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