Robert Richman

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would ban red light cameras throughout the state.  

SB 714, which state Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) authored, will prohibit all red light cameras throughout the state because he said they violate the constitutional rights of individuals to be able to talk with the person who witnesses the violation. If the bill passes the House, it will go into effect in September.

Throughout the bill, Hall cited a study which claimed that the presence of cameras didn’t contribute to safer roads.

Austin currently has 10 intersections with active red light cameras, which helps Austin Police Department officers patrol intersections, APD Lt. Robert Richman said.

“The red light cameras that we have assist us because we don’t have enough officers to be able to be out at every single intersection monitoring it 24/7,” Richman said. 

People run red lights at all times of the day, Richman said.

“In 2014, there were 11,571 citations issued for running red lights at those locations,” Richman said. “If you take a look at that and think about how many of those were issued by officers, about 9,000 of those were issued by officers. Running red lights is probably the third-highest factor besides impairment and speeding that we have in serious injuries and fatal crashes.”

There are no red light cameras on campus at this time, but with heavy foot traffic, pedestrians still have to worry about people running lights, UTPD officer William Pieper said.

“On a college campus, my first thought is the safety of pedestrians,” Pieper said. “When you look at the red lights that are around campus, typically there’s a great deal of college students who are crossing those intersections on foot, and when a vehicle fails to stop or yield at a red light, … that could be very devastating for the pedestrian.”        

Since the red light camera implementation in Austin in 2008, 2.6 million people have ran the lights, Richman said.

Petroleum engineering freshman Sean Moore said the cameras should stay in place, even though he initially thought the bill would be good.

“I honestly think in some ways, red light cameras — they prevent people running them,” Moore said. “It would be nice to say that we’re not being monitored and give drivers more freedom, but the reality of it is that you need some more enforcement of red lights. … And cops in cars only go so far.” 

Richman said the entire idea of the cameras is to help officers keep intersections safe.

“I wasn’t a huge proponent of the red light cameras at first either because I didn’t think that they would be that helpful because you can’t have somebody there witnessing it,” Richman said. “But I think what we’ve found is that, with traffic, if there are things that you can bring attention to people for them to actually change their behavior, then anything [helps].”

High ceilings made of wood, steel and other recyclable materials muffle the sound of firing handguns, rifles and machine guns in a new shooting range designed to improve Austin Police Department’s performance and environmental friendliness. The 50-yard-long shooting range, which debuts Monday, employs various methods of environmental conservation, including the prevention of water and soil contamination and the recycling of used ammunition byproducts. The range is part of the Roy Butler Training Building, the main facility of an area Sgt. Robert Richman calls “campus.” APD, the Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services all use the facility. The project took about 18 months and $22 million to complete, including the shooting range, quarter-mile running track, burn house, main training building with classrooms and a driving simulator, obstacle course, parking facilities and everything APD, AFD and ATCEMS use for training purposes. “The idea had been in process for probably four years, and we were planning on the environmentally friendly side of it from day one,” Richman said. “It’s part of the Austin initiative to make sure that everything built is more environmentally conscious.” Buckets underneath the shooting range collect the used bullets, which are recycled in various Austin-area facilities. Any airborne particles, such as lead dust, are filtered through a machine and deposited in 55 gallon drums. Suction prevents anything from getting in or out of the drum, so when it fills up, it can be capped off and recycled. Lead dust can be melted back down into usable lead. “It’s great that they’re being more environmentally friendly in some places you wouldn’t think to look,” said Andrew Townsend, co-director of the UT Campus Environmental Center. “You can be environmentally friendly in any area of life, and this is one that I didn’t think of.” Townsend said as far as recycling is concerned, metals are some of the most recyclable materials. “We get basically the market rate for recycling the lead and brass,” Richman said. “Those checks end up going back to the taxpayers to be re-utilized for other things.” Solar panels line the roofs of the buildings, and a drainage system prevents groundwater from being contaminated by lead and other substances used in the shooting range. A control room allows staff members to control the amount of energy used and prevent waste, Lead Firearms Instructor Mark Hoffman said. Safety for officers and visitors was also a priority when designing the range. The walls, composed of compostable wood and other materials, are eight inches thick so no bullet can escape, Hoffman said. One of the reasons for the improved shooting range is that APD Chief Art Acevedo would like all officers to begin shooting on a monthly basis. “We want to have a lot more curriculum pushed out there for firearms and advanced firearm techniques,” Richman said. “We will be able to facilitate that in a way that we weren’t able to in the past, by expanding the range how we did.” APD’s previous shooting range was about 25 years old and cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 to clean and maintain the rubber-granulated backstop used to collect the bullets, which left rubber and lead residue to be thrown away and not recycled, Richman said. “Sometimes people forget that police officers are kind of seen in a light like we look at you when we need you, but they don’t see that we also share the same values when it comes to conservation and things of that nature,” he said.