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Ariz. PD to purchase $1M in equipment to crack down on street racing

The money will be put toward advanced camera technology, license plate readers, a speed enforcement van and more technologies

By Charles Borla
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. — Nearly $1 million in high-tech equipment is needed to help fight illegal street racing, Tucson police told council members Tuesday.

The City Council agreed to the idea of using technology to target rampant street racing, and told City Manager Mike Ortega to work on ways to pay for it.

An updated plan could be made to the council by March, Ortega said.

Over the past six weeks, city staff was tasked with recommending technology that could help Tucson police establish “No-Racing Photo Enforcement Zones,” similar to those established in Seattle, to help fight an uptick of illegal street racing.

That ordinance kickstarted the city’s plan “to install speed enforcement cameras in key areas of the city that are heavily impacted by unsafe driving,” Lee said in a memo.

Although Tucson voted to do away with red light cameras in 2015, it didn’t prohibit the city’s use of them, said city attorney Mike Rankin.

“It prohibited using those cameras in a way where they were the only observer of the violation and that the prosecution of a violation was based exclusively on the operations of the camera or that technology,” he said. “Whether it be the no racing zone enforcement or any other use of cameras for traffic enforcement, it wouldn’t be just based on the camera capturing the violation, there would be a human witness able to testify in court to move forward a violation, and that would be consistent with the voter action back in 2015.”

The priority of implementing technologies safely and legally have not been ignored, says Tucson police chief Chad Kasmar.

“When we talk about technology with government, not just police, there’s concern,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “When we look back at the past five years of policing, it’s not the technology that’s gotten us in trouble, it’s how we’ve used it.”

A memorandum by the city manager’s office recommended six technologies, totaling about $994,000, in for the near term.


Kasmar said Tuesday that he did not want to limit this vehicle to just a van, that it could be any vehicle, but most likely it will be unmarked.

“At a high level, using a photo radar equipped van in a designated area with officer observation would allow the system to record speed violators during a particular time period,” city staff said. “Later, they would download the data and review the photos to identify the driver and issue a citation or warning to the registered owner or driver based on data found in the state driver’s license system.”

PTZ CAMERAS: $300,000

Pan-tilt-zoom cameras are designed to cover large public spaces, such as outdoor malls, parking lots or downtown areas, the city says.

PTZ cameras can be manually controlled or set to an “auto” mode where the camera would rotate its view after a set time for designated areas.


ALPRs are “high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems typically mounted on street poles, streetlights, overpasses” or even city-owned vehicles.

“ALPRs automatically capture all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date, and time they are recorded. This data is then used to find out where a plate has been in the past, to determine whether a vehicle was at the scene of a crime, identify travel patterns, and discover vehicles that may be associated with each other,” the city says.

Tucson police have 12 such camera systems, and have asked for $187,500 to purchase and deploy 100 more.


MALPRs serve “the same essential function” of ALPRs, the city says, but are instead mounted on city-owned vehicles as opposed to fixed positions.

Tucson police currently has 50 MALPRs “scheduled to be attached” to their vehicles. They are requesting $155,000 to purchase and deploy an additional 50 MALPRs.


Gun Shot Detection systems are deployed “in areas that receive high call volume related to shots heard, recovery of crime guns, and National Integrated Ballistic Information Network hits from weapons or shell casings recovered,” according to the city. The system is able to detect weapon discharges and pinpoint where shots were fired, the city said.

The city says that through the Project Safe Neighborhood grant, 22 systems have been purchased and “strategically deployed” throughout the city. Police seek an additional 20 to be purchased and deployed, totaling about $226,500.


The city manager’s office proposed its departments move toward encrypting their radio feeds, as nearby jurisdictions like those in Phoenix have done.

There is currently no additional cost required to encrypt its radios, the city says, as they recently purchased new mobile and portable radios “that come with this encryption technology available.” Street racers have access access to city communications and are “able to stay one step ahead,” the city said.

The city expects to have its new radios fully deployed by June 2024.


Longer term actions the city can explore in its 2025 budget also were discussed at Tuesday’s study session. They included:

Combining private and public video streams and computer-aided dispatch to “enhance the investigative and proactive capabilities” of police.


Expanded vehicle detection systems “equipped with a variety of specialized sensors, cameras, and advanced software” that are able to detect vehicles and traffic patterns.

The city’s Department of Transportation and Mobility currently has 330 vehicle detections systems capable of providing live feeds of 55 “signalized intersections” throughout the city. A policy would be established where these feeds could be made available to Tucson police, the city says, which would establish guidelines for “use of this dedicated video feed, potential retention of the video, and response to record requests” of the feeds.


Tucson police currently has helicopters and “small unmanned aircraft systems” (sUAS), but not a fixed wing aircraft. The department has “limited access” to the Pima County Sheriff’s airplane.

GPS tracking darts that would be used primarily during high-speed chases as a way to keep roads safe, not only for pursuing officers, but also for bystanders.

“From an equipped, marked police car, a GPS-tracking dart can be deployed using compressed air which does not cause any damage to suspect vehicles,” police say. “The dart then transmits location data, allowing police units to deescalate situations, while still allowing them to track down those engaged in illegal activity at a safer time and location.”

The city manager’s office says that tools not based on technology also could be effective. Examples mention Tuesday included, partnering with social organizations or clubs that are committed to legal racing, as well as additional penalties being leveled against street racers.


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