Crime & Courts

Just got a traffic ticket and didn’t see a cop? They saw you

‘I hope people don’t perceive this as ‘Big Brother.’ ’

Wichita police are using cameras installed in the Old Town area for traffic enforcement. The cameras are monitored from the Fifth floor of City Hall. (Nov. 8, 2017)
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Wichita police are using cameras installed in the Old Town area for traffic enforcement. The cameras are monitored from the Fifth floor of City Hall. (Nov. 8, 2017)

In what many are perceiving as a “Big-Brother” move, officers of the Wichita Police Department no longer need to catch your improper left turn or rolling, incomplete stop in person.

If you are caught making a violation on camera by a staffer who is monitoring Old Town from an office in City Hall, that staffer will call and alert a nearby officer of your violation.

The staffer will provide the officer with your location, a description of your vehicle and what violation you made.

That officer can then pull you over.

“I hope people don’t perceive this as ‘Big Brother,’ ” Wichita police Sgt. Kelly O’Brien said. “Officers are monitoring public places where you see it from public viewing. It’s just a way for officers to enhance their abilities to protect the community and improve traffic safety and also improve officer safety.”

Still, O’Brien knows not everyone will think this is OK.

“I did an informal survey before we ever did this to every friend and person I came across, and it’s a 50/50 split,” he said, mentioning that even his wife and daughter were not necessarily on board with camera-based traffic enforcement.

There are 97 cameras monitoring the core of Old Town, with particular attention at First and Washington, Second and Washington and Third and Mead.

These locations were selected based on the number of violations, accidents and traffic complaints received in those areas, according to police.

Wichita police officers, including some on horses, keep watch over the crowds during closing time in Old Town. (Video by Oliver Morrison/The WIchita Eagle/May 7, 2016)

O’Brien said traffic concerns are the No. 1 complaint the Wichita Police Department receives.

“People are concerned about specific intersections, and it’s a priority,” he said. “Public safety is a priority, and this is one more approach in enhancing the efforts to raise awareness to the concerns in those areas.”

The cameras are recording the intersections 24/7, but staffers are currently only monitoring them during specially-assigned two-hour time slots. In this pilot program, cameras are monitored during the slower hours of 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.

The camera enforcement started Oct. 18. On that date, from 1 to 3 p.m., 53 violations were witnessed on camera, 50 citations were issued and five warnings were given.

On Nov. 2 from 9 to 11 a.m., 88 violations were witnessed on camera, 55 citations were issued and four warnings were given.

The camera enforcement is not occurring daily, O’Brien said, but he has noticed that violations have decreased, citing “public awareness” of the cameras as the reason.

Because of this, he said there is “nothing I don’t like” about the camera-based enforcement.

He does not yet have stats to prove the drop in violations because it was “just a general observation.”

O’Brien said officers plan to hold special camera enforcements during the holidays and when drunken driving may occur.

During the 9-11 a.m. enforcement on Wednesday, Nov. 8, three staffers were monitoring the cameras. Two were commissioned officers, and one was an employee of the Wichita Police Department.

O’Brien said the non-commissioned officer is responsible for logging violations. And while the hub of camera enforcement is in City Hall, officers also have camera access in their patrol cars.

The department is capable of storing the recordings for 400 days, and it can use the tapes in court to verify that a violation occurred.

O’Brien says the department has three goals for camera-based enforcement:

▪ to improve traffic safety downtown

▪ to enhance enforcement efforts

▪ to raise public awareness

Kaitlyn Alanis: 316-269-6708, @kaitlynalanis