HPD went to City Hall this week with a strange message: Accidents are way up at intersections that used to have red-light cameras, but this “fact” (more on that below) should not be taken as an endorsement of re-installing red-light cameras.
That confused message was apparently exactly what HPD wanted reported, and KTRK-13 secretarial journalist Karla Barguiarena ran with it, uncritically. Here’s a taste of her press-release style dispatch:
The Houston Police Department is adamant that they did not come to city hall to ask for a return of those red light cameras. Instead, these statistics they revealed are just part of a bigger conversation regarding staffing and police needs.
But one thing is certain — there is no denying these numbers. An informal study conducted by HPD found accidents nearly doubled at Houston intersections after red light cameras were pulled.
Not one critical voice is quoted in the KTRK dispatch. Because obviously, these numbers are not to be denied!
Except there are some issues with the numbers, as the Houston Chronicle notes (yes, we’re surprised sometimes too!):
Executive Assistant Chief Tim Oettmeier acknowledged the analysis was imprecise, however, noting that the data did not split neatly into four years of collisions when the cameras were in place and four years when they were not. In addition, Oettmeier said police did not examine the traffic counts at those intersections to see if the increase in collisions might be related to the streets being busier.
Oettmeier did discuss citywide crash figures, which show steady increases over the last four years.
Unlike the weak KTRK reporting, the Chronicle even managed to find a critical voice (which was pretty easy):
Some council members questioned the methodology behind the red light crash data and the purpose of including it in the presentation. Among them was Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman who, with his brothers, led the 2010 referendum effort that got the cameras banned.
“I don’t know why it’s in this report,” he said. “There’s a charter amendment that says we’re not going to do this. There was a vote of the people; the people said no, and why you even waste your time to put this in the report to us today, I do not know. Maybe it’s that I’m sitting on council – that’s the only reason I can see.”
So much for KTRK’s one certain thing.