Watchdog: Police sabotaged $25 million speed camera project

Cops calibrated cameras to only snap drivers traveling at ridiculous speeds, canceled 55,000 tickets and wiped out violations by senior officers

A speed camera seen on Route 1 highway from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
A speed camera seen on Route 1 highway from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

A $25 million project to use speed cameras to help reduce road accidents has become a farcical failure, in part because police sabotaged it by recalibrating half the cameras nationwide so that they wouldn’t register too many violations, the state watchdog found.

On Jerusalem’s Hebron Road, blighted by numerous accidents, for instance, a driver would have to travel at over 155 kilometers per hour (96 mph) to trigger the camera, Israel’s state comptroller found in a damning report issued Wednesday. The speed limit on the road is 80 kph.

On Tel Aviv’s Namir Boulevard, the cameras are set to flash only when a driver exceeds 250 kph (155 mph). The limit on that road is 60 kph.

“These speeds are ridiculous,” a road safety campaigner told Israel’s Channel 2 news on Wednesday night.

The report also found that 55,000 indictments for traffic violations were simply deleted for “procedural” reasons between 2012 and 2015, with the Court Administration, Public Security Ministry and Israel Police not succeeding in coordinating dates for trials and other technicalities. In that period, road deaths increased by 22 percent. In 2015, there were 357 fatalities on Israel’s roads.

According to the report, police tampered with the cameras with an eye to decreasing the number of reports police officers would have to write for offending drivers.

The report also found that violations by several senior police officers were canceled when they claimed, unfoundedly, that they were dashing to the scenes of crimes. Those cases have now been reopened in the wake of the report.

The government invested NIS 100 million ($25 million) in the project to set up what is intended to be a network of 300 state-of-the-art digital cameras nationwide.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)

But “systemic failures prevented an optimal operation of the camera array, in which significant funds were invested,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote in the report. “The findings of this analysis point to not achieving central goals [of the program] and to inefficient use of the cameras.”

Police said in response that the project is “a national infrastructure project still in the stages of establishment and expansion.” Most of the comptroller’s findings and complaints have been corrected, police said.

The Public Security Ministry said that it began working in the spirit of Shapira’s recommendations immediately upon receiving a draft of the report several months ago.

“Regarding the camera project, there is a huge gap between the number of reports the cameras can produce and the ability of traffic courts to try offending drivers. The new cameras can produce millions of reports a year, but courts can only deal with some 90,000 annually,” the ministry said.

The director of Or Yarok, an NGO fighting for road safety, said that the devastating report “speaks for itself.”

“When a driver sees a speeding camera they take their foot off the gas pedal and drive more moderately… The government must implement its decisions to add more cameras in dangerous junctions and in the places where there is a direct link between the speed of driving and traffic accidents,” said Shlomo Abuav.

Knesset Economics Committee Chair MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) in a committee meeting about the controversial natural gas deal, December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Knesset Economics Committee Chair MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) in a committee meeting on December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, a member of the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Road Safety, said the facts revealed by the state comptroller’s report “have played a central role in the collapse of enforcement of laws that prevent killing on the roads.” He said the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee would soon hold a hearing on road accidents “and will then discuss the findings of this report with the Knesset’s State Control Committee.”

Shapira will be present at the discussion, Cabel said.

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