By Jamie Donnelly
Arizona Daily Star
TUCSON, Ariz. – After a record year for traffic fatalities, Tucson police are asking motorists to go online to identify dangerous drivers using dashcam videos and images.
Traffic Watch is an online tool that allows people to report violations such as speeding, racing and reckless driving by filling out a survey instead of calling 911. The survey also includes an interactive map where users can pinpoint the exact location , where the violation occurred. And it lets users upload video and photographs of potential violations.
After the user submits a violation, a motor officer will then review the report and determine what action, if any, should be taken. The response can range from a courtesy letter to a citation or arrest.
After working in TPD’s Communications Division, Sgt. Aaron Marquis, who oversees the police department’s motor squad, said he noticed people calling 911 to report aggressive driving and realized a system wasn’t in place to handle such calls.
That gave the idea for Traffic Watch.
Like a neighborhood watch program, Marquis said they wanted to create a tool that involves the public since “the eyes of the community are everywhere.”
“Right now we’re down to 20 motorcycle officers, so obviously they can’t be all over the city,” said Lt. Lauren Pettey, who is part of TPD’s traffic division. “This is a good way to get the community involved and report these types of driving violations.”
Since its launch at the end of March, the department has received up to 70 submissions. Marquis said he has seen posts from neighborhood associations reporting reckless driving and many complaints about speeding, tailgating and people cutting in and out of traffic.
Pettey said they’ve even gotten some great ideas from the public to improve the online tool. Thanks to community members, the survey now includes a section where people can report vehicles with excessive noise. A Spanish version of the tool is also on the way.
In addition to the investigation, the online tool also allows individuals to upload photos and videos, such as dash cam footage, to help positively identify the driver in question. So far, Marquis said they have received quite a few photos and some videos from home security and business surveillance cameras.
Those reporting violations without a photo or video must describe the driver in question. In those situations, Pettey said TPD will not be able to issue a citation, but will send a letter instead.
The investigation warns people who make a report that includes footage they recorded while driving — rather than from a dash cam — that they could also be cited because using mobile devices while driving is illegal here.
In a Facebook post announcing the new program, some people raised concerns about dashboard cameras and their similarities to red-light cameras, which have been banned in the city.
Dashboard cameras are like the security cameras in businesses or doorbell cameras used in many homes, said David Fritsch, a public information officer for the department. Public submissions of photographic evidence have always been accepted, Fritsch said.
“It’s a community, it’s not the government watching you,” Fritsch said. “It’s hey, I’m watching my neighbor because I care about my neighbor’s safety, I don’t want them to get hit by a car on their way to the store. So that’s where it’s different for me in my eyes.”
Most importantly, Marquis wants to assure the community that they thoroughly review and filter the submissions. When reporting a violation, the individual must include their name and contact information so officers can follow up and get more details.
“It won’t just be an automated process where someone will get a citation or someone will get a letter in the mail,” Marquis said. “The goal is that we tried to reduce serious collisions and fatalities on the road. We want to make the streets and our roads safe for everyone.”
So far this year, Tucson police have investigated 26 fatal crashes. 10 of these accidents have been fatal pedestrians.
Recently, Marquis said they thought they had a good submission from someone who included photo evidence. However, through the investigation process, it was discovered that the person had “backgrounds”.
To deter problems like this, the investigation warns the community that there are penalties for those who file false reports and harassment.
Ultimately, Pettey says he wants the tool to be educational for Tucson drivers. The courtesy letters will serve as a friendly reminder telling the driver receiving one that what they did was a traffic violation.
“A lot of times it’s just going to be educational, which I think is great,” Pettey said. “You get a warning that can change your driving behavior. It’s not just about enforcement. It’s about education.”
For more information about the program or if you need to make a report, visit www.tucsonaz.gov/police/traffic-related-information.
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