FutureStructure

Despite Court Ruling, Florida Red Light Cameras Aren’t Leaving Just Yet

Although three Orange County circuit courts ruled against red light cameras, arguing they give police powers to a third part contractor, the Orlando PD has updated its protocols hoping to continue using the traffic tech.

by Jeff Weiner and Bethany Rodgers, Orlando Sentinel / February 24, 2016

(TNS) -- Red-light cameras have taken a beating in headlines across the state in recent days.

In Tallahassee, a bill to repeal the law authorizing the cameras is heading to the floor of the Florida House. In Orlando, a panel of judges ruled that, at least in one case, the city's ticketing system was illegal.

But suggestions of the cameras' demise in Florida appear to be premature.

Despite its progress in the House, the repeal bill appears to have stalled in the Senate. And Orlando and other Central Florida cities say the ruling won't change the way they use the controversial technology.

"We don't think that the ruling … is going to have a big impact on our program," said police Capt. Randy Fernandez of Apopka, where cameras at 11 intersections detected more than 30,000 red light violations last year.

The ruling, by three Orange County circuit court judges, centered on a ticket written to Orlando attorney Kelli Hastings in December 2014. Hastings argued, and the judges agreed, that the city unlawfully delegated police powers to camera contractor American Traffic Solutions, which sent potential red light violations to Orlando traffic officers.

The city disagrees with the ruling and says its considering an appeal, but according to spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser, the case also was based on procedures Orlando no longer uses.

Lafser said the city decreased the involvement of ATS in the ticketing process in June, reacting to another successful red-light camera appeal out of South Florida last February. That was after Hastings received her ticket.

"Rather than having the contractor pre-screen and send us those cases which it felt met the criteria for violations, the city receives and reviews all events recorded by the cameras," Lafser said.

Fernandez said Apopka is reviewing the new ruling but also believes its program is already in compliance. ATS is Apopka's camera vendor, too, and turns over all data to the city for review, Fernandez said.

Orange County spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet said its legal department was "still reviewing the case."

Robert Azcano, an attorney for The Ticket Clinic, expressed skepticism that Apopka and Orlando have changed their processes enough to steer clear of the ruling, the impact of which he said the cities are downplaying.

The judges and hearing officers who hear ticket appeals in the Orange-Osceola circuit will treat the panel's ruling as precedent, he said, giving potent ammunition local residents who fight camera-issued citations. But only those who fight will see the benefit, he said.

"If you're going to pay it, this has no effect on you, whatsoever," Azcano said. He predicted Orlando won't appeal the Hastings case because it would be wary of losing again at a higher court, which could expand the ruling's impact.

The city reaffirmed its commitment to the technology in November, when the City Council approved a new five-year contract that allows ATS to more than double the number of cameras in Orlando.

Orlando issued more than 24,000 red light camera tickets in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, bringing the city more than $1.2 million in revenue.

The state's coffers reaped more than $45 million over the same period from red-light cameras throughout the state.

Questions remain about whether the cameras are accomplishing their stated goal of improving driver safety, especially after a December report from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

That report, which tracked 276 camera-monitored intersections, said crashes actually increased by about 15 percent after the cameras were installed, though it cautioned that the jump followed a broader statewide trend.

A measure to repeal the 2010 statute that authorized the cameras' use has since picked up steam in the House, but the Senate's version remains stalled in committee, as the session's end looms March 11.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, the Senate bill's sponsor, put his confidence at "less than 50 percent" that the legislation will pass both chambers this session but pledged to continue pushing for repeal in future sessions.

"I think there's a broad understanding that red light cameras are more about revenue than safety," Brandes said.

©2016 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.