Hamilton County Commission reverses speed camera decision

photo Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Commissioner Marty Haynes before the Hamilton County commissioner board revotes and reverses a controversial motion passed last week that would have allowed sheriff deputies to acquire two officer-operated traffic cameras to clock and take video of speeding drivers. The motion was denied today in an 8-1 vote with District 5 Commissioner Greg Beck being the only one in support of the resolution. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond explained to commissioners last week that the cameras would mainly be used on narrow roads, school zones, construction areas and other areas where it is dangerous for officers to perform routine traffic stops.

HOW THEY VOTEDThis is how commissioners voted on the resolution to allow deputies to use hand-held speed detection cameras.LAST WEEKThose for: Chester Bankston, Greg Beck, Jim Fields Marty Haynes and Larry HenryThose against: Tim Boyd, Joe Graham, Warren Mackey and Fred SkillernON WEDNESDAYThose for: Greg BeckThose against: Chester Bankston, Tim Boyd, Jim Fields, Joe Graham, Marty Haynes, Larry Henry, Warren Mackey and Fred SkillernIn other businessDuring a recessed commission meeting and agenda session held afterward Wednesday, commissioners:• Voted to approve a $94,043 contract with Dell Marketing for software for the county information technology services department. The issue was tabled last week because commissioners needed more information.• Accepted several six-month unit pricing bids for road building and construction materials.• Accepted a $62,930 contract with Brooker Ford for two four-wheel-drive Ford Expeditions for Hamilton County Emergency Services.• Accepted a proposal from Mauldin and Jenkins to perform financial and compliance audits of County Government, County Constitutional Offices and County School Activity Funds.

Sheriff's deputies in Hamilton County will have to continue policing speed the old-fashioned way.

During a recessed meeting Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners reversed a motion passed last week that would have allowed deputies to acquire two officer-operated traffic cameras to clock and take videos of speeding drivers.

With the devices, instead of pulling drivers over, the officers could opt to have a private company mail $50 civil tickets to vehicle owners.

Last week, commissioners voted 5-4 to approve the measure. But after hearing a barrage of complaints from residents, three said they had changed their minds. On Wednesday, the vote was 8-1 against the resolution, with only District 5 Commissioner Greg Beck standing by his previous decision.

Beck said political pressure from residents was no reason to toss a measure to promote officer safety.

"This is for officer safety on the narrow roads, and this is for school zones, so it's the safety of the kids going to school up in the county," Beck said. "That has not changed in a week of phone calls."

He said officer and resident safety "rises above anything we can talk about up here."

District 2 Commissioner Jim Fields was among those who withdrew their support Wednesday.

Fields said while traffic stops can be dangerous for officers, face-to-face contact with police can offer other benefits to public safety.

"Officers, once they stop a vehicle, often discover other crimes being committed," Fields said.

Chattanooga already uses traffic cameras to cite speeders and red-light-runners, but those cameras are automated.

County commissioners who voted for the measure last week said they were harried by criticism from their constituents and wanted to revisit the issue.

Sheriff Jim Hammond had told commissioners that the cameras would be used mainly on narrow roads, school zones, construction areas and other areas where it is dangerous for officers to perform traffic stops.

The tickets would not have penalized drivers' insurance premiums or driving records and would have held lesser penalties than standard moving violations.

Applied Technology Partners, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company that would have supplied the cameras, would have pocketed $25 out of each ticket collected, and $12.50 of the remainder would have gone to the county's general fund.

The remaining $12.50 of the proceeds would have been earmarked to pay for a countywide driver's education program. But District 7 Commissioner Larry Henry - who initially supported the measure citing a need for teen driving classes - said Wednesday the funding mechanism was not feasible for the scope of the proposed program.

Henry made the first motion to revisit the issue Wednesday.

"When I really put the pencil to this and really did some figuring, I don't see how $12.50 over time would ever be able to fund a meaningful driver's education program," Henry said.

Sheriff Hammond did not address the commission Wednesday, and he said earlier this week that he was moving on from the issue.

John McConnell, president of Applied Technology Partners, said last week his product has been misrepresented by media. Its main focus, he said, is not for surveillance but to give police officers a tool to safely enforce speed laws on dangerous roads.

In a phone interview Wednesday, McConnell said he was disappointed by the commission's reversal.

"Obviously, we are very disappointed that we will not be able to serve the citizens of the community," McConnell said. " And we still think it's a very viable speed management tool."

He said his product is unique because it is officer operated, just like a standard light detection and ranging - or LIDAR - device. The main difference is it gives officers the option to cite a driver without putting himself or other drivers in danger, he said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.