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Sheriff wants both red-light, speed cameras in Las Vegas

Updated January 18, 2024 - 7:38 pm

Sheriff Kevin McMahill wants both speed cameras and red-light cameras installed to help make Las Vegas a safer place to drive, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“I do think we need speed cameras, and I do think we need red-light cameras,” McMahill said.

McMahill spoke about the cameras as he discussed issues around traffic safety in the Metropolitan Police Department’s jurisdiction in 2023, as well as ways to help foster a safer driving environment.

“The reality of it is that I could put four times the size of officers that I have right now on motorcycles, doing traffic offenses, and it would still have no impact. It just won’t,” McMahill said, adding that using technology effectively is going to be one of the ways that makes for more successful law enforcement.

But Nevada law prohibits such cameras unless law enforcement is present. As such, the standalone red-light and speed cameras that are seen in other states across the country are not used in Nevada.

McMahill supports a change in state law to allow the cameras in Nevada, a Metro spokesperson said.

According to Metro’s statistics, there were 156 fatalities from crashes in 2023, up from 153 in 2022, or a rise of 2 percent. There were 150 total fatal crashes, edging 2022’s total of 149.

As he discussed his first year in office, McMahill spoke about some of the progress made against violent crime in 2023 compared with 2022 — Metro stats show about a 12 percent drop in murders — but he lamented the rise in fatal crashes.

“Where I’m not too happy with the way that I performed is in fatal car accidents,” McMahill said. “They did have an increase in fatalities, and this year, we’re already two ahead of what we were last year at the same time.”

According to the most recent Metro statistics, as of Jan. 12, six fatalities from crashes have occurred so far compared with four at the same time in 2023. But that number has grown since then.

Erin Breen, the director of UNLV’s Road Equity Alliance Project and the coordinator of the UNLV Transportation Research Center’s Traffic Safety Coalition, favors the use of speed and red-light cameras, “which I affectionately refer to now as safety cameras, because that’s what they are.”

Breen said that in the first half of January, according to preliminary data, there have been 15 traffic fatalities across the whole of Clark County. That’s compared with 18 fatalities for the entire month of January 2023, she said.

Nine of those fatalities have been in Metro’s jurisdiction, which includes Las Vegas and much of Clark County outside North Las Vegas and Henderson, which have their own police departments.

Five of those fatalities have occurred in Henderson, including the deaths of a mother and her two young sons who were killed after their vehicle was rear-ended by a suspected DUI driver, and one of those fatalities happened on Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas.

“Do I think we should have safety cameras?” Breen asked. “The answer is absolutely yes.”

But if such cameras are ever to be installed on Nevada’s roads, the law will have to change. Breen said there have been regular and numerous efforts to do so when the Nevada Legislature meets every two years — to no avail.

The critics of such cameras have their complaints. Among those are the camera’s effectiveness and constitutionality.

West Juhl, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the issue is “nuanced.”

“Red-light cameras, in and of themselves, we’re not against,” Juhl said. “But we do oppose them for the very real possibility of surveillance creep.”

McMahill acknowledged critics’ concerns but said the rising number of deaths needs to be taken into account as well.

“I don’t like the idea that it removes some of the freedoms, and some of the restrictions, but I’m tired of dealing with people dying in car wrecks,” McMahill said.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com.

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