Slaying fuels debate over Ariz. speed cameras
By Amanda Lee Myers
PHOENIX, Ariz. — The debate over the first statewide speed camera enforcement program in the nation has reached a boiling point following the fatal shooting of a camera operator.
Critics of Arizona's program condemned the killing but vow they'll continue to fight what they call unfair and overly intrusive government. Supporters of the program say camera opponents have inflamed the public, and that the speed cameras have made highways safer.
Doug Georgianni, 51, was killed on April 19, as he operated a speed-enforcement van on a Phoenix freeway. Thomas Patrick Destories, a 68-year-old Phoenix man, is being held in Maricopa County jail on a first-degree murder charge in the death. He has declined to comment.
Authorities haven't said what they believe the motive might be, but said the two men had never met. Many simply assume the killing was the latest and most extreme backlash against Arizona's photo-enforcement program.
Arizonans have used sticky notes, Silly String and even a pickax to sabotage the cameras since September when they began snapping photos of highway speeders driving 11 mph or more over the speed limit.
State lawmakers have proposed two bills to do away with the cameras, and three separate citizens groups are targeting them in initiatives for the 2010 ballot.
"The conversation on everyone's mind in Arizona is the photo radar killing. That's what everyone is talking about," said Shawn Dow, a volunteer with the citizens group CameraFRAUD.com.
CameraFRAUD.com is the largest and most organized of the groups going after the cameras. Its initiative would ban photo-enforcement cameras throughout Arizona, including those in the statewide program and those run by individual municipalities, such as red light cameras in Tempe.
Dow said the Arizona Department of Public Safety and camera operator RedFlex Traffic Systems Inc. put Georgianni in danger by having him in a marked law enforcement vehicle even though he was a civilian.
"They're putting these people in marked police vehicles that are civilians that have no training, no way to defend themselves," Dow said. "We should have trained police officers - cops, not cameras."
DPS spokesman Lt. James Warriner said the department is working with RedFlex to decide how the vans will operate in the future, and that they may be unmanned.
The speed vans were pulled from Arizona freeways Monday; fixed cameras are still operating.
Warriner said critics have blamed his agency for the killing "when all we're doing is administering a program that was mandated by state Legislature and the former governor.
"Because of (critics') vocalness, you could almost say they've led to this, too - because of their protests, the encouragement of people to strike out," he said.
Warriner said Georgianni's killing will not stop photo enforcement.
Karen Finley, president and chief executive officer of RedFlex, said in a statement that the company is being "deliberative and prudent" in its review of establishing criteria to redeploy mobile speed cameras. She declined to comment further.
Republican Rep. Sam Crump of Anthem, who is seeking to ban speed cameras on state highways, condemned Georgianni's killing.
"While we don't know at this time what the motives were for this senseless killing, many have understandably speculated that it was due to anger against the speed cameras," he said in a statement the day after the killing. "To the extent there is any truth to that, I call on all individuals to reduce the war of words on this topic. Whatever the motives for this crime were, there is absolutely no justification for such a heinous act."
The photo-enforcement program was launched under former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Civil violations are punishable by a fine and surcharges totaling $181. Through Jan. 31, 34,000 motorists had paid their tickets.
Tyler Bennett, a 23-year-old Glendale resident who recently got a photo radar ticket on a Phoenix-area freeway, said he's against the speed cameras but he was "dumbfounded" when he heard about the killing.
"That really kind of hit me, to be honest," he said. "It's kind of fun to dog on the whole photo radar thing, but this whole thing is completely different."
He said he doesn't think DPS, RedFlex or critics of photo enforcement are to blame - just the person who pulled the trigger.