Denver Police on inaccurate red-light-camera report, relationships with the media

anastasiya bolton.jpg
Anastasiya Bolton.
Update: Last week, 9News aired a report noting that revenue figures from red-light cameras provided by Denver Police for a story last year were wrong -- very wrong. Turns out the DPD had touted the original report in a Twitter survey as much more fair than a photo-radar story on Fox31. And despite the error, spokesman Lieutenant Matt Murray still feels that way.

Last October, Murray (who also spoke with us for our post on the Fuck the Police march) touted the evenhandedness of Anastasiya Bolton's story for 9News in comparison to a story done several months earlier by Fox31's Heidi Hemmat. "When you look at how many times she's done stories on photo radar, at what point does it become an ax to grind?" Murray said of Hemmat. "And the numbers in the 9News story.... How did Heidi leave those out?"

lieutenant matt murray.JPG
Lt. Matt Murray.
The most prominent of those numbers was $279,000, which Bolton said was the amount Denver collected from red-light cameras from January through August of 2011. Bolton characterized this sum as a drop in the bucket compared to the overall DPD budget -- so low that it undermined the argument that red-light cameras are more about generating cash than enhancing safety. In truth, though, that figure was for the month of August alone. The DPD subsequently confirmed that the actual figure was more than $1.2 million.

Murray regrets the error: "That's why we went out and apologized and said we were wrong," he notes. However, he goes on, "the numbers had nothing to do with what I was saying about Heidi Hemmat. My objection was to the way she was telling the story. We didn't feel like two sides of the story were being told."

Since the 9News correction ran, we've heard allegations that individuals at the Denver Police Department knew the numbers 9News used last year were wrong but didn't speak up. Murray says he was never told anything similar, and that he certainly had no idea about any problems with them. "To me, they were accurate," he says. "I was operating on the same numbers everybody else was, and I didn't realize they were in error until last week."

heidi hemmat.jpg
Heidi Hemmat.
One media source suggests the real blame should be placed on 9News for simply accepting the DPD's numbers rather than double-checking them through another agency; Fox31's Heidi Hemmat used Department of Revenue figures for her story. This same insider sees the relationship between the department and the station as too cozy, pointing out that Nicole Vap, executive producer for 9Wants to Know and the I-Team, is on the board of Crime Stoppers.

Is this a conflict of interest? We've left messages for Vap and will update this post when we hear back from her. (Update: Vap's responses can be found in a new post, "9News-Denver Police relationship not overly cozy, producer says.") But Murray scoffs at such a notion.

"We have relationships with a lot of reporters, but no more with one group than another," he says. "It's great that Nicole's willing to be on that board. It's a nice thing, a nonprofit organization that she volunteers to help. But the normal news we give to everybody at once."

Granted, he concedes, "there are some stories we find and work with individual reporters on. But we work with the reporters, not the stations. And we try to spread that around." As an example, he points out that the most lengthy recent story on red-light cameras was by Deborah Takahara at Fox31, Hemmat's station. It aired a couple of weeks ago.

"We do work with some reporters better than others," Murray concedes. "But that's just the nature of the world."

Look below to read our earlier coverage.

Original item, February 24: Given all the attention garnered this week by the first Kyle Dyer interview since she was bitten by a dog on live TV, another 9News story has fallen through the cracks. The station aired a piece admitting that an October story about red-light cameras had included incorrect info provided by the Denver Police Department, which so loved the results that it staged a Twitter survey to laud it.

As we reported last fall in the post linked above, Lieutenant Matt Murray, who oversees the DPD Twitter account, asked via tweet for followers to compare the fairness of a Fox31 report from the previous April to a new one by 9News' Anastasiya Bolton.

In the Fox31 piece, which is no longer at its previous link and didn't show up in a website search, reporter Heidi Hemmat portrayed photo radar as a revenue-generating scheme whose citations aren't valid unless they're presented to drivers by hand rather than through the mail. In contrast, Bolton's report was much more sympathetic. For instance, she said the DPD had generated just over $279,000 from red-light cameras between January and August of 2011, which she characterized as a mere "drop in the bucket" compared to the department's overall budget. This statement infers that Denver Police's insistence that the red-light camera program is more about safety than money is true.

Murray left little doubt about which of these packages was his favorite. During his chat with Westword, he said of Hemmat, "When you look at how many times she's done stories on photo radar, at what point does it become an ax to grind? And the numbers in the 9News story... How did Heidi leave those out?"

By the way, the results of Murray's Twitter survey showed that respondents felt 9News' piece was more fair than Fox31's -- but the former ran neck and neck with "Who cares? I hate photo radar!!!" Here's the graphic showing the breakdown:

Thumbnail image for denver police survey results.jpg
Problem is, the numbers Murray faulted Hemmat for excluding were wrong -- really wrong. As Bolton reported this week, another 9News staffer asked the Denver Police for red-light-camera data and got a much bigger figure. So Bolton went back to the cops to ask about the disparity. Turns out the cameras generated $279,000 in the month of August 2011 alone -- and the total for January through August was actually well over $1.2 million.

In the new report, DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson -- who appears to be speaking from the 9News studio, as if he's been called to the principal's office -- characterizes the error as a simple mistake and apologizes for it.

Still, the delight with which the police department embraced the report last October can't help leaving viewers to wonder why no one at DPD noticed that Bolton's drop-in-the-bucket thesis was based on a sum that was much, much lower than the actual one.

The October report by Bolton, which was admittedly based on incorrect data, remains online here, and at this writing, there's no editor's note or acknowledgement that there's any problem with it.

Update, 1:05 p.m. February 24: The Fox31 report mentioned above is now back online; it got lost in the cyber-shuffle as a result of a website reboot. Heidi Hemmat notes that rather than asking the Denver Police Department for red-light-camera revenue numbers, as it appears 9News did, she got her figures from the Colorado Department of Revenue -- and while it's something of an apples and oranges comparison, it does appear the DOR's numbers are higher than even the updated DPD figures. In 2010, the department told Hemmat the photo-radar program generated more than $3.6 million, as opposed to the $1.2 million red-light camera total for the first eight months of 2011.

Watch it below, immediately after Bolton's two offerings -- the latest one first, followed by the one from October.

Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

More from our Media archive: "Denver Police Twitter survey results on photo radar stories: 'Who cares?' finishes strong."

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15 comments
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Holmes
Holmes

Heidi Hemmit:  You are giving us false information about not paying the photo radar tickets.  They are trying to track us across the city, and giving the ticket to neighbors to give to us when we get home..Now the ticket has a late charge attached to it.  I am not happy with the information the LOCAL MEDIA  has given me was false.  I am in more trouble than ever now.  

Bob Smith
Bob Smith

Anyone ask Bolton what she thinks about the whole thing? Yes, I know she's a cop groupie but I noticed it was Jackson not Murray who appeared in the 9News"correction" piece.

At what point do even Denver's lame-puppy media realize this guy's unreliable; he just hasn't been certified by the Civil Service Commission yet?

AgendaBuster
AgendaBuster

I know a bunch of you love 9 news. I'm done with 9 news. I just can't trust channel 9 anymore. They are so in bed with the City the Governor and the Democratic Party that I find their newscast one sided. That side happens to be the Left Side I want to add.

However it gets worse, I've never trusted the Weathercast since Mike Nelson checked out. Every year 9 news gets worse and worse. I'm sick of the feel good sappy 9 newscast they now provide. New management is way overdue, i'm sure it won't happen as long as they hold #1 spot. As for me, I watch little local news anymore. I just don't trust the quality. 

I'll start watching 9 news when they go after the Denver Mayor, Ex-Gov Bill Ritter and the whole Hickenlooper machine. You see, 9 news is too kinky, too untrustworthy, too fake!

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

TV news in Denver is to blame for public corruption.The media is suppose to be the watchdog on government.Not in Denver.The former manager of public safety Butch Montoya worked for 9News.News4 and KOA for the longest time, the News was controled by Dan Muse.I think that's the real reason Dave Minshal was fired, he knew too much.You think News4 would stay up late at night and cover all the violence outside their studio and gunfire outside 1082 Broadway on the weekends.Why is it the Denver Police, District Attorney do not close down Club Vinyl?Could it be the former manager of public safety Manuel Martinez, now corporate attorney for the Texas Mafia has something to do with it?The answer is probably inside the secret community Masonic Lodge.The Masons I believe are responsible for most of the corruption in Denver: on the Bench of Denver County and District Court in collusion with the corrupt City Attorneys, Public Defenders all the way up to the corrupt Court of Appeals public defender Martin Gerra and the corrupt Excise License Division and corrupt Clerk and Recorder that called in the SWAT Unit to count the ballots for converting the Rocky Mountain News into a prison in the city.How about John Hickenlooper's Hells Angel Bartender that murdered a man by butchering him in the parking lot behind Mezcal Bar?Why didn't the media, any of it report Hickenlooper's Hells Angel Gang Member Bartender plea-bargained a sweet deal in Denver District Court to 3 years in prison for manslaughter to a savage slaughter by Knife? Why was it not reported by News 4, 7, 9, or 31?  Do you think John Hickenlooper has any influence on the media and Denver District Court? Do they all know each other, Hickenlooper, District Court Judge, District Attorney, Homicide Detective, Regas Christou, and News Directors from the Masonic Lodge?

The State of Colorado needs a Special Prosecutor.

Please Google: RTD Light Rail Train Crash

keeg
keeg

The FoxNews piece is more enlightening, in terms of citizen rights and hypocrisy of the police department. I like that they talked to a lawyer about it--didn't just regurgitate what the police department gave them, which it appears 9news did. Sometimes I think news agencies don't question the police or politicians because they don't want to alienate them should they need information on something else later.

As far as revenue goes, over the past two years the city has taken in something like 11 million more in revenue from tickets and fines. The city is using the additional revenue in an attempt to make up the structural budget deficit that it faces year after year. It's something like a 25 percent increase in revenue from fines and tickets. I feel there is a quid pro quo between the city and the police. The police bring in the additional revenue and the police budget then won't be reduced. The police are looking after themselves here.

I've been paying much more attention to these issues after receiving a ticket from an officer myself. The police are maintaining a speed trap up here in Stapleton in a school zone. I was ticketed for going 31 in what would normally be 30 mph, but because it was a school zone, I was ticket for going 10 mph over 20 in a safety zone--which means double fines. The police are stationing themselves in school zones as a way to increase the ticket fines. If it were about safety, the city would install the blinking yellow lights in all the school zones. The officers set themselves up in the zones where there are no blinking yellow lights. In my case, I turned into the school zone past the warning signs. There weren't any signs on the street I turned off of into the school zone. For me, it's not really about safety when steps aren't being taken to improve safety, such as adding signs. (I wrote the traffic eng division and asked them to do so, but they haven't.) The signage should be corrected when issues are discovered, but that's not what is happening. It's actually art of the officer's job when he discovers an issue. My ticket was 150 dollars if I paid it immediately. It was 190 if I missed the pay date and paid at court. Because I wanted to talk to someone about the signage issue, it ended up costing 270. I think that's extreme in light of the circumstances.

I was watching the City Council meeting about the photo red light tickets and the tickets being issued for people going over the white line. 60 percent of the tickets given out were for going over the white line. Officers aren't giving out that many tickets in person for that kind of violation. The Council ended up reducing the fine, but so many Council members seem to be out of touch on these issues. Many of them were offering excuses over why going over the white line was such a major safety issue requiring a hefty fine. It's just not. Plus, I had to cringe when I heard Charlie Brown make fun of people who had tried talking to him about their tickets. For me, that was a blow, as I had tried to talk to Charlie Brown about people being taken advantage of, as well as the judge in my case, whose behavior during the hearing was unprofessional to say the least.

I feel no one is protecting or looking out for the citizens. We're really being taken advantage of by a situation where the generation of more revenue seems to be the priority. It's a problem that involves not just what the police are doing, but also what Council members, the mayor and judges doing--or rather not doing. Thankful that FoxNews seems to be looking out for people. 9news' piece seemed to be more of an explanation coming from the police dept. Frankly, I'm weary of the placation on the part of city officials as to what they are doing. They should care more. As the FoxNews piece brought up, there is also the issue of the City tries to scare people into paying tickets. The whole process and mission should be rethought and reworked.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

The Media Relations Bureau of the Denver Police has gone from Dennis Cribari to Sonny Jackson and now the infamous Lt Matt Murray. The Bureau should be abolished.

Please Google: RTD Light Rail Train Crash

Guest
Guest

Yeah, and Cribari went to prison for raping a young girl. Luckily for the Denver taxpayer, he retired with a full pension before they locked him up. When he finally gets out of stir, (hopefully sporting a size 11 asshole!) he'll get paid for life. With any luck, it'll amount to two paychecks before someone cleans his clock, permanently.

http://www.parentsformeganslaw...

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

Just about every Chief of Police has retired with a full medical disability pension and moved on to a better paying more important government job.A special prosecutor for the State of Colorado if one was appointed could investigate and prosecute those public servants, those through their Masonic connections get some quack M.D. to write a letter of Disability.

AgendaBuster
AgendaBuster

You bring up a strong point!It's high time all Civil Service Employees give up 100% of their Pension with any Felony Conviction. I understand some east coast states are doing this today.

Bob Smith
Bob Smith

You don't think there's any connection between this and the recent Ch 31 airing of the Dyer video, do you? Nah, just my petty, suspicious mind. Right?

Colorado Mmj Patient
Colorado Mmj Patient

Remember kids, you DO NOT HAVE TO PAY THESE TICKETS unless they are handed to you IN PERSON. It is the law, and they must abide by it too. Spread the word.

I didn't pay from last year and nothing has happened to me. 

lunkwill
lunkwill

If it's not about generating revenue, I'm sure the Denver Police Department would have no issue donating the proceeds to a worthy cause instead of keeping it for themselves.

Perhaps they could donate the revenue to CDOT so we can save lives by re-engineering of some of our more "dangerously designed" intersections.

No?  Right, that's kind of what I thought, police.

delaney
delaney

Now who's story is more accurate? Looks like DPD fed 9 news the wrong info on purpose, while fox did their homework.

Guest
Guest

What an embarrassment! for DPD and 9News.  Geez.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

That's one way of putting it. Thanks for the post, Guest.

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