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Traffic camera flashes could be a system check

What would happen if one of the photo cameras is not working properly? I was traveling west on Barnett Road to Stewart Avenue where one of the photo cameras are. The light (arrow) was green and about five or six people in front of me went left onto Stewart. I noticed the camera flash went off with each one, including me, and I assume a few in back of me.

We were all turning left with the green arrow and there was no reason for the camera to go off. Is there any way for the system to know it was malfunctioning? What do we do if we get a ticket?

— Mary from Medford

I referred this to the Medford Police Department and got back this response (thank you) from Lt. Bob Hansen:

"Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer this. The red light photo enforcement electronic system works in conjunction with the traffic light control system. It has no effect on the system other than to 'read' when the traffic light system changes color; in other words, it does not control the changing of the lights, it only 'senses' when the light changes.

"There are metal-sensitive strips in the pavement that can sense the movement of vehicles over them. When the light changes to red, and the system senses a vehicle nearing the intersection that is not going to stop, then a series of events starts to occur. The cameras take pictures of the vehicle from both the front and back; these are the pictures that are sent to the driver along with the citation. There is also a video that is saved that can show the vehicle a few seconds before, during and after the violation.

"After the violation is captured by the system, the photos and video are compiled by the camera system vendor and sent to the Medford Police Department for review. Each and every violation is reviewed by an officer to ensure that a violation actually did occur. The officer looks at both the photos and video to make this determination. If there was a violation, then the officer verifies it and a citation is sent out within 10 business days of the violation. If there was no violation, then the officer cancels any further action against the driver. No citations are sent out without an officer's approval.

"As to the 'false flashes': Occasionally the camera flashes will go off as a test to make sure the system is operating properly; no citations are issued. There may also be a time when a vehicle next to you, or at a different approach to the intersection than you, is violating the red light and causing the camera and flash to activate. Just because the camera flash goes off does not mean that you are going to receive a citation.

"There will never be a citation issued until after an officer reviews the photos and video to ensure a violation occurred. And if you do receive a letter and citation for violating the traffic signal, you will be directed to a website where you can view your violation video before deciding your plea."

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a regular Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.