By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian police pledged Monday to reverse a growing number of road accidents with an “automated system of traffic control” that will result in first-ever surveillance cameras in Yerevan and other parts of the country.
General Hovannes Hunanian, the deputy chief of the national Police Service, said the new system of road policing, to be phased in within the next five years, will also enable the authorities to cope with a growing number of cars and scale down rampant corruption among traffic policemen. “Given the rise in the number of road accidents and transport vehicles, there has arisen a need to broadly use modern technological means for ensuring road safety and public order,” he told reporters.
The first stage of the program envisages the installation of 214 cameras and speed radars on just about every busy square and street intersection in Yerevan. The process is due to be completed by the end of next year and extended to the rest of Armenia by 2010. The Armenian government will spend $1.5 million for that purpose, said Hunanian.
Hunanian said the program’s implementation is made all the more urgent by increasingly heavy traffic which is particularly visible in the capital. According to official figures, about 13,600 cars were imported into Armenia during the first nine months of this year, raising the nationwide total to above 300,000.
Police officials estimate that Armenia now boasts more vehicles than it did in Soviet times. They attribute this to an almost 10 percent rise in the number of accidents registered by the traffic police from January through September.
In Hunanian’s words, televised traffic control will lead to sweeping staff cuts in the traffic police which numbered an estimated 500 officers until recently. He said about a hundred of them have already been laid off, adding that a smaller police force will be both more efficient and less corrupt.
Bribery and other corrupt practices are widespread among the local traffic controllers, a phenomenon dating back to Soviet times. A typical kickback for avoiding legal punishment for an alleged or proven violation of traffic rules is 1,000 drams (just over $2). Officers patrolling streets or highways are thought to transfer a large part of that money to their superiors.
That corruption is a serious problem was recently denied by a senior official from Armenia’s State Automobile Inspectorate. Hayk Sargsian also revealed that none of his colleagues has been dismissed or sanctioned otherwise this year for accepting kickbacks from motorists.