Tulsa Public Safety Tax Could Help Police, Firefighters, Officials Say

Thursday, January 29th 2015, 6:32 pm

Even though it's not hard to photograph cars going through intersections on yellow or red lights, it's almost impossible for police to use cameras to catch red light runners.

It's something we all see happening at intersections and police write tickets for it, but if there were cameras, it could catch a lot more people.

Tulsa city leaders looked into installing cameras to catch drivers running red lights, but that conversation seems to have come to a standstill.

No city in Oklahoma uses them right now and there's a reason for that.

Cities in other states use them, but Oklahoma state law has a standard that makes cameras almost useless for enforcement.

Tulsa prosecutor Bob Garner said the law doesn't ban cameras but requires an officer to both verify the offense and identify the person behind the wheel.

"Did this vehicle run the red light and you're going to have to prove this person was the driver, operator of the vehicle," he said.

City councilor G.T. Bynum wanted to clear up the legalities of using cameras before considering more expensive options to step up enforcement.

He thinks cameras have the potential to save money and improve enforcement.

“Having a state law that says a police officer has to be sitting there, and personally witness it, or have a lengthy investigation to determine it happened is ridiculous in the 21st century," Bynum said.

The city prosecutor said if a camera spotted violators, an officer would still have to investigate the case.

That would take away the savings of time and money that cameras provide elsewhere.

The mayor said he would be open to cameras, but regardless, would like to see more enforcement, and that means more officers.

“If we have more enforcement, people would realize running the light is an unsafe situation and it's going to cost them money, they'd give it a second through next time,” Bartlett said.

The mayor is asking for a public safety tax that would help pay for more officers, giving them more time to do enforcement that's not a top priority, but could ultimately prevent a deadly car crash.

Voters in Tulsa are likely to see the public safety tax on the ballot this fall, and would it include a proposition also to help firefighters, as well as police.

Bartlett said he's trying to add some stability to the money available for public safety and pay for new initiatives. On Thursday, he also demonstrated plans to add firefighters in areas that are short right now.

The fire department is pretty evenly staffed throughout the city, until you get to east Tulsa, where the population is booming, creating more calls for the fire department.

There's a plan to build a new station at 21st and 177th. It already is funded, but the challenge is paying for the people who work there.

“So what we're asking for in a total of 34 new firefighters that would be funded by this 2/10th of a cent extension of an existing sales tax, and we get a new fire station in east Tulsa and perimeter fire stations would have one more person,” Bartlett said.

And that mention about the perimeter stations is to add one firefighter per shift to stations around the perimeter of the city to help fill gaps there.