5 Questions with B&W Sensors' John Baine -- The Guy Behind Those Danged Speed Cameras

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His company has been compared to acne and derided as nothing more than a money grab. Still, these are heady times for John Baine, co-founder of Sunset Hills-based B&W Sensors. Just last week yet another St. Louis suburb announced that it would use his company's controversial speed cameras to monitor traffic and issue tickets.

In a conversation yesterday with Daily RFT, Baine argues that his company improves road safety while freeing up police for more important matters. He also had some choice words for St. Louis County Chief Tim Fitch (a vocal critic of his company) who Baine compares to the Sheriff of Nottingham -- ticketing motorists for $1,250 dollars compared to B&W Sensors' $100 fines.

Question #1:  Can you tell us a little about your company -- its origins and its principals?

One of B&W's mobile speed cameras.
  • One of B&W's mobile speed cameras.
One of B&W's mobile speed cameras.
Baine: Basically I had worked for company called Kustom Signals. They sold radar, laser, and in-car video (dash cams) to police and law enforcement. What I noticed, though, was that these police assets -- radar and laser -- weren't being utilized effectively. So, I got to thinking of a way to create a higher degree of public safety that might redistribute assets so the public gets more of what they they're expecting from police officers -- beyond traffic detail. Around this same time I met Tom Winkler through my brother-in-law. Tom is an electrical engineer by training who was working for Emerson on programs that helped fighter bombers identify and track threats during combat runs. He and I started discussing better ways of doing speed enforcement on our roadways. A couple years later -- in January of this year -- we launched the company.

2: You'll soon be in operation in five communities. How widespread will these cameras be in a year, or five years from now?

The basic underline mission of our company is better safety through technology. The Missouri Municipal League has endorsed the use of automated technology in law enforcement -- speed and red-light cameras. We're getting our message out knocking on doors and attending police shows and conventions. As more people hear about this technology and sees the results, the demand is only going to increase. The three communities now using our cameras have seen the average speed dip below the posted speed limit and the number of speeders going above the targeted threshold (usually 10 mph above the limit) have dropped significantly.

3. What do you say to critics such as St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch, who sees these cameras as a money grab?

Fitch: St. Louis County Police Chief or Sheriff of Nottingham?
  • Fitch: St. Louis County Police Chief or Sheriff of Nottingham?
Fitch: St. Louis County Police Chief or Sheriff of Nottingham?
MoDOT talks about "traffic calming" on Interstate 270 with their variable speed indicators. Those digital signs that change the speed limit depending on traffic conditions. We contend that our cameras have the same effect. We've seen that in Charlack where 27 to 30 percent of cars were going 15 mph over the speed limit. Now it's less than .5 percent. Tim Fitch calls what we do a "speed bump." But there's no difference with what his cop cars do when they're ticketing people in a construction zone except that their tickets are $1,250. Ours are $100. If I'm going to argue with Tim Fitch, I'd say he is to (St. Louis County Executive) Charlie Dooley what the Sheriff of Nottingham was to Prince John. What Fitch particularly doesn't like, is that our cameras provide communities with some sustainablility. The county wants smaller communities to disengage who they are and turn over their control to the county. Fitch doesn't dispute the efficacy of the technology. He just doesn't like communities to have a new tool that helps them them provide the necessary standard of life that their charters call for, including good law enforcement.

4. Do you think your cameras would withstand a legal challenge from a vehicle owner claiming they weren't driving the car when it was ticketed? (ie. demanding that the state present its burden of proof)

The attorneys who don't like red-light cameras have done the same thing. They've challenged the due process aspect in state and federal court and have lost. The one thing they really don't like with our cameras (and red-light cameras) is that they don't utilize points. And why don't they like that? Because motorists have no reason to hire that attorney for $50 to $60 to fix their tickets. That's what the lawyers are upset about. I'd love for some of these attorneys to disclose how much they're making on fixing tickets.

5. Okay, but given how controversial these cameras can be, do you catch flak from family and/or friends who may not be with you on this project?

I come from come from a very large family. This summer we had a reunion and one of my brother-in-laws came up to me complaining that he'd received a ticket from us. He wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I said, "Nothing." He had to live up to his civic responsibility. He was not happy.

Bonus Question: Give us your sales pitch when you're meeting with police chiefs and mayors about these cameras.

Sure. I tell them: "I'd like to talk to you about your speeding problem. I have a patent-pending, speed-tracking system that provides traffic solutions and violation services to law enforcement charged with safety enhancement in school construction and high-impact zones while aiding in modifying driving behavior and positively affecting distracted driving." 

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