YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Traffic cameras that catch speeders have been a boon for cities like Youngstown, while others find the current traffic camera laws too restrictive.
The City of Youngstown has been using the laser traffic cameras since July. That month was a warning period for motorists caught going over the speed limit by the cameras, but from August 2015 to the end of February 2016, the City of Youngstown has collected $198,942 from speeding tickets issued specifically through use of the cameras.
Meanwhile, other area police departments have stopped using the cameras, citing laws that make it all but impossible to beneficially utilize them.
Hubbard Township began using traffic cameras last summer, but after concerns over the legality of the cameras’ usage, the township stopped using them after a trial period.
The township brought in Attorney Mark Finamore to look at the laws for local departments using cameras on interstates, specifically on Interstate 80.
Finamore’s legal opinion was that Hubbard Township could not issue any tickets or citations on an interstate, under Ohio Revised Code. Townships with a population of less than 50,000 cannot enforce traffic laws on any interstates. An exception to that law is if the violation has first occurred within the township and is either a felony or first or second degree misdemeanor and the township is in pursuit of the driver “within a reasonable time after the violation occurred.”
Because the township could not enforce speed violations on Interstate 80, as initially planned, Township Trustees decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
“It’s just a shame that we can’t enforce these speed laws… It’s just a stumbling block, especially with the success Youngstown is having with it,” said Hubbard Township Trustee Fred Hanley.A “cash cow”
Currently, both the Youngstown and Weathersfield Township police departments use the traffic cameras.
Girard City Council is considering using them as well and is expected to vote on an ordinance Monday evening during its regular meeting.
Police officers man the cameras, which are similar to radar guns and are used to catch and fine speeders by capturing images of the speeders’ license plates on the cameras. Those people are then sent speeding tickets in the mail.
In 2015 alone, the Youngstown Police Department mailed 5,042 speeding tickets after the July warning period, according to Youngstown Police Lt. Bill Ross. In total, 6,572 tickets were mailed through the end of February, with 3,952 of those tickets being paid to that point.
The city court and police department said it had no way of tracking how many tickets were dismissed through the court system.
Thirty-five percent of the money collected goes to Optotraffic, the speed camera company. The rest of the money is placed into a special fund to be used only by the Youngstown Police Department to purchase equipment, according to Youngstown’s Deputy Director of Finance Kyle Miasek.
City Council has already approved the department’s spending of $85,000 of that money for equipment purchases.
The Weathersfield Township Police Department has not issued anywhere near the amount of tickets that Youngstown’s police department has, but Weathersfield Police Chief Michael Naples, Jr. said he finds the cameras useful in areas where it might be dangerous for officers to make traditional traffic stops.
“Our officers are still making traditional stops… The camera is just a tool, but it makes it a little easier in spots,” he said.
In January, the police department issued 44 tickets. In February, it issued 88 tickets.
Naples said he plans to continue using the camera on township roads, in addition to officers making traffic stops.
Finamore said traffic cameras are often used by police departments to supplement their funding.
“They can be a cash cow if you use them right, and that’s why people started using them,” he said.
But, Youngstown Police Lt. Bill Ross said his department started using the cameras to reduce speeding on Interstate 680 – in an area where there have been a high amount of accidents. He said, although a study will not be completed until the end of the year, it appears as if there have been fewer fatal and serious injury crashes in that area since the department began using the cameras.
“That number of higher-tier tickets that we’ve issued has gone down,” Ross added, saying that the program will be reevaluated in a year to determine its effectiveness.New laws
While the popularity of traffic cameras continues to grow, the laws surrounding them are uncertain, as critics, like Ohio Sen. Tom Patton have said the cameras are used solely as “a cash grab” in many small towns.
“I think what they’re trying to get away from these small towns using them as a money maker, rather than from a safety standpoint,” Finamore said of proposed laws, designed to further restrict the use of the cameras.
Patton, R-Strongsville, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that getting a ticket in the mail after a violation doesn’t make a person drive safer. He proposed legislation, which was introduced to the Senate in February, to restrict the use of traffic cameras in small towns.
Patton could not be reached after multiple requests for comment by WKBN.
His proposed legislation includes restrictions on how much money can be made off the cameras. If passed, it would prohibit local authorities from deriving 30 percent of its total annual revenue from the issuance of tickets from traffic cameras and from allowing an authority to issue tickets that exceed two times the population.
Other proposals would completely prohibit an area with a population of 200 of fewer or an area that does not operate a fire department or an emergency medical services organization from using the photo-monitoring devices.
Currently, laws in place state police departments must conduct a traffic study, have a public information campaign and put signs up in areas where cameras will be used before they can use the cameras.
Senate Bill 342, which went into effect in March of 2015, states that traffic cameras must be manned by a police officer – a law that effectively shut down many camera programs across the state, including in Cleveland and Columbus, where unmanned cameras were once used.
Before Senate Bill 342 went into effect, the Associated Press reported that Cleveland collected $5.8 million from camera violations in 2013. The cameras were positioned in school zones and areas deemed “high-risk accident areas.”
The cities of Springfield and Dayton have appeals pending in the Ohio Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 342. The cities say it violates the Home Rule amendment of the Ohio Constitution.
Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, authored Senate Bill 342 in an effort to shut down what he called a cash grab among Ohio cities and townships. He called the appeal to overturn Senate Bill 342 a “long shot.”
“Our batting average in the Court of Appeals is perfect right now… I feel pretty good that ultimately the Supreme Court will uphold 342, as all the courts of appeals have done so far,” he said.What others are clicking on: