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Red-light camera aimed at First Street violators

BRADENTON - Police and political dignitaries this morning celebrated the launch of the city's first red-light-runners detection system at First Street and Manatee Avenue West.

They talked about how the high-tech system, made up lasers and a camera installed along side of the road, will enhance public safety, that it's not about $125 fine violators will have to pay.

For Melissa Wandell, however, it is personal. Since her husband Mark was killed by a red-light runner in October 2003, she has campaigned for the installation of detection systems at busy intersections.

"We're not going to let children live without their parents because someone decides to run a red light," Wandell said during a brief ceremony near the intersection. "This is a way to save lives, this is an educational tool."

The system, which only will monitor traffic heading south on First Street, works like this:

A device on a 40-foot pole on the northwest corner of the intersection sends out lasers that detect traffic passing through the intersection. If it calculates that a vehicle is about to run a red light, it sends a message to the camera on the shorter pole, about 25 yards south of the intersection along First Street. The camera captures both still and video images of the vehicle right before the point of violation, and if the vehicle continues, in the middle of the intersection.

From there, the images, which also must show that the light was red, are sent to a data center run by the city's contractor, ACS, where it is twice verified before being sent to the Bradenton Police Department for its verification. Once police confirm there has been a violation, a citation, which carries a $125 fine, is printed and mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

ACS gets about $40 of the fine, with the rest going to the city.

Officials said they hope that once motorists are aware the system is operational, that there will be a deterrent effect. In 2007, there were 3,503 citations issued in Manatee County for running a red light, including 1,185 in the city of Bradenton, according to state statistics.

The Bradenton City Council has agreed to place up to 10 cameras at city intersections. The Manatee County Commission has passed a similar ordinance, but no cameras have yet been installed.

"These cameras, when people learn about them, they don't run red lights," said state Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who has tried for five years to pass legislation, the Mark Wandall Safety Act, that would allow cities and counties to place detection systems on state highways.

Other officials speaking at the ceremony, held at the Bradenton Herald, which donated the space for the system, were Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston.

"When you run a red light now, it will cost you," Poston said. "We're not interested in the money, we're interested in public safety.

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