The network of cameras in Wichita’s Old Town district has led to an arrest of an assault suspect and helped police keep a better eye on vehicle burglaries and brewing late-night safety concerns.
It was the cameras’ day job, though, that got the area buzzing.
So it was heartening to see city manager Robert Layton say last week that police will likely scale back use of Old Town cameras to issue tickets for minor traffic violations.
Layton said the city, if he has any say, will “reduce their use to what should be an appropriate level of enforcement.”
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That’s welcome news to Old Town business owners, workers, patrons and residents. The area east of downtown had become abuzz with police cruisers waiting for violation notifications from colleagues monitoring 70 cameras back at City Hall.
Two perceptions came out of the trial period in which traffic tickets were issued by way of video surveillance.
One, Wichitans who live, work or drive in Old Town felt picked on. Cameras are watching traffic over a few square blocks of Old Town when cameras aren’t spotting violations anywhere else in the city.
That brought criticism from Old Town businesses that didn’t want the cameras to become a reason for Wichitans to avoid the area.
Two, the revenue gained by issuing tickets at roughly $100 a pop through video add up over time – even over a few weeks of the pilot program. The cameras turned into a dual purpose of late-night entertainment district safety and daytime citation revenue stream.
(Disclaimer: Wichita Eagle employees have been issued tickets because of video surveillance. We’ve also never come to more complete stops with no traffic approaching.)
The Big Brother feeling of Old Town is hard to miss when you know police cameras are watching – even when driving normally. It’s a feeling not experienced in other parts of Wichita, which raised a fairness question.
Some Wichitans disagreed, saying a violation is a violation whether it’s picked up by camera or not. That’s a logical argument, one that puts video cameras on an equal level with radar, motorcycle cops and sobriety checkpoints.
But those other pieces of traffic enforcement move around Wichita, making them effective because can they surprise drivers. Cameras, meanwhile, are anchored to the Old Town district. There are no surprises, only an ongoing enforcement area as long as a police department employee is watching the monitors.
Layton said cameras will still be a part of traffic enforcement, just not as much. It’s reasonable to think that if cameras pick up violations that threaten public safety, then the motorist becomes fair game for police.
Old Town’s cameras are a welcome addition to the nightlife district. More of them around other popular spots around Wichita would be great. But until there are so many that traffic enforcement isn’t singling out an area, they’re best left for safety and not for issuing tickets.