Traffic camera criticism in Bristol: "It's a bit opportunistic.. - WRBL

Traffic camera criticism in Bristol: "It's a bit opportunistic...."

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It's a conversation at the crossroads of technology and traffic enforcement in the Tri-Cities.

In communities like Johnson City and Kingsport, so-called "automated enforcement" has the support of the Chiefs of Police.

"I think it's been beneficial for us," said Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois who told News Channel 11 in an interview earlier this year that his analysis shows a reduction in wrecks at red light monitored intersections.  "I think it's been a good program."

The top cop in Kingsport agrees.   

"We've definitely got less people running red lights," said interim Police Chief David Quillin.  "The numbers show us that." 

But the Chief of Police is Bristol, Tennessee has a dramatically different opinion about automated enforcement.

"I don't think automated enforcement matches the values of Bristol," said Chief of Police Blaine Wade.

In his decade as Bristol's Police Chief, Wade said he's been approached multiple times by multiple companies anxious to provide automated traffic enforcement cameras in Bristol.   But in a city that prides itself as a tourist destination for NASCAR and country music fans, Wade thinks the cameras send the wrong message.  "Automated enforcement doesn't check someone's driver's license," he said.  "The cameras don't check to see if the driver is wanted.  They don't see if they're having a medical problem.  They don't see if they're intoxicated.  Our officers, when they stop you, they look at you.  They talk to you.  They try to be hospitable while enforcing the law, and it's a personal service that you can not have with automated enforcement."

Chief Wade is quick to add that it's not his place to comment on how other cities operate, saying Johnson City and Kingsport have different dynamics to manage.   And Wade acknowledges the cameras can help in situations when officers can not be present to monitor compliance with traffic laws.   In Bristol, Wade says he's equipped to handle the city's traffic needs with uniformed officers in marked cars.   "I can move our assets as need demands," said Wade.  "And that's something you can't do with a camera on a pole."

Wade isn't the only Bristol leader who doesn't want traffic cameras around.

Jerry Caldwell is the General Manager at Bristol Motor Speedway.   Usually quick to steer clear of anything critical when it comes to track neighbors, Caldwell told News Channel 11 he's now ready to be perfectly clear.  He thinks speed cameras are a bad idea, and he supports proposed legislation that would outlaw the speed camera erected by the town of Bluff City just south of BMS on Highway 11W.

"We're trying to be as hospitable as possible," said Caldwell.  "We're working as hard as we've ever worked to get fans to come from all over the world.  It's a bit opportunistic to go after those race fans during this time."

Plenty of people are getting tickets during race week, according to numbers provided by the town of Bluff City.   During the 2012 August race week, 477 drivers got speeding tickets generated by Bluff City's speed camera on Highway 11-E.  

Has BMS lost fans because of the traffic camera?

"Absolutely," said Caldwell.  "We've lost lots of fans because of those cameras.  I get letters every race from fans saying so.  Unfortunately, they put it on us, the City of Bristol and this region, and they say, 'If you guys don't want us there more than that, If you're going to prey on us, then we're not coming back.  We're going to go somewhere else.'"

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