Letter: Candidate for Gonzales Police Chief opposes traffic cameras

Stephen Ussery

For anyone who does not know me, I am Stephen Ussery, a retired Gonzales police officer (21 yrs.), who will be a candidate for the upcoming Chief of Police election in November 2024.

I attended Monday’s city council meeting to learn about the proposed ordinance for electronic traffic enforcement; basically camera/photo monitored radar enforcement primarily in school zones.

Since this was an introduction of an ordinance, I was informed that the time for discussion on this matter will be in two weeks at the July 25th council meeting during a public hearing. However, the mayor did allow a brief presentation from the manufacturer’s representative from Missouri and a few questions from councilmen and citizens including myself.

My first concern was the cost and the revenue to be generated from this equipment. Without having all the facts outside of the breakdown from the Pelican Post, the 40% of the revenue going to the manufacturer for the duration of the contract with the police department does not leave much left for the justifiable benefit to the department. The city’s tax base, and the revenue collected by the department from citations, arrests and other fines seems to far outweigh the potential revenue from this endeavor.

The City of Gonzales is not hurting for revenue.

As a retired Gonzales police officer who worked 17 of my 21-year career in the traffic division as a motorcycle officer, I am concerned that the department has been getting away from prioritizing the “backbone” of any law enforcement agency: Its Patrol Division. Visibility of officers on the streets, known as Officer Presence, is crucial and essential to crime deterrence. Since my retirement, I have seen fewer and fewer officers on the streets, especially in those school zones where this equipment would be utilized.

We cannot replace officer presence with electronic means. Posted signs, flashing lights and even camera surveillance should be used as tools for public awareness of school zones.  BUT these tools will never be as effective as the presence of that police unit and that officer standing in the street with the radar gun in his hand (as I did for most of my career).

Substitution of electronic means for officer presence, the department will be eliminating one of the most effective tools it has to effectively and fairly enforce laws and ordinances…..Officer Discretion. Officer discretion is the ability of any officer to determine whether a violator should be warned or issued a citation or arrested.  As community policing is scrutinized in the media like never before, officer presence and the exercise of discretion are vital in an officer’s ability to do his/her job effectively and fairly, to build trust in the community.

Often during my career red light violators would tell me to check the cameras at the intersection, pointing up at the white devices mounted on the traffic signal post around the city.  These devices are not cameras, but monitoring devices installed by DOTD to monitor the volume and flow of traffic at peak traffic times. Motorists who assumed that cameras were in place at intersections were not deterred from running red lights in the city. Any type of warning sign and/or video surveillance is helpful, and often necessary in traffic enforcement, but only as a tool to aid officers in the performance of their duty…not to replace them.

 

Stephen Ussery, Candidate

Chief of Police for the City of Gonzales

 

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