(TNS) -- Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams plans to end the city’s red-light camera program next year, in part because he doesn’t believe it reduces car accidents.
Williams discussed his intentions to dismantle the city’s network of red-light cameras Thursday to the City Council Finance Committee during its review of the Sheriff’s Office’s proposed $410 million budget for next year.
The committee also discussed Mayor Lenny Curry’s request to hire 80 more police officers next year, a key part of his and Williams’ plan to reduce violent crime.
Council members had a number of questions for Williams about how and where the new officers would be deployed. They held off approving the hiring request until Williams returns with answers later this month.
After the meeting, Williams said he wasn’t concerned the request was in jeopardy of not being approved.
“I think the questions they asked me are easily answered,” he said. “If you listen to them, they’re very common-sense based.”
Since the city began using red-light cameras in 2012, statistics haven’t definitively proven the technology reduces crashes at the 26 intersections outfitted with them.
Reports from state highway officials found an increase of crashes statewide at intersections with cameras.
Local data has shown that both increases and decreases of accidents at camera-outfitted intersections. Former Sheriff John Rutherford, a vocal proponent of red-light cameras who brought the technology to Jacksonville, conceded in 2014 the results were a “mixed bag.”
Williams, who took office in 2015, isn’t sold on their effectiveness. “We know from the data that it’s not really reducing crashes at intersections,” he said.
However, Williams said he stuck with the program because he had high hopes in a nascent and potentially life-saving technology that was offered by the city’s red-light camera vendor, Redflex.
Known as the Halo System, the cameras purportedly could detect cars running a red light and delay the opposing traffic signal from turning green until the intersection was clear.
The city installed that technology at five intersections, but Williams said it was riddled with problems that limited its effectiveness. He said his department concluded the “technology just isn’t there yet,” so he’s decided not to renew the city’s red-light camera contract after it expires at the end of this year.
Redflex guaranteed the cameras wouldn’t cost the city a dime. The company said the fines generated by the cameras would not only be enough to cover the costs but would also boost city coffers.
While the cost-neutral promise has held true, their revenue-earning ability fell short of expectations.
City officials expected to earn $1.5 million during the first year the cameras went online. Instead, they generated just $82,000 that year. Fine revenue would increase in later years, but that was significantly offset by a portion collected by the state and city’s costs of employing staff to oversee the program.
Last year, the city expected to bring in $840,000 in revenue from red-light cameras. That number will decrease by $310,000 next year.
MANPOWER ON STREET
This year’s proposed budget is the third consecutive year Curry requested money to hire more police officers. So far, he’s financed the hiring of 80 new officers.
This year, Curry requested money for the sheriff to hire an additional 80 officers next year and permission to bring on as many as 100 new officers. The budget calls for $12 million in salary increases, which includes salaries for the new officers and raises for current employees.
Williams said he expects to be able to hire 80 new officers next year if he receives the money. Hiring any more would be difficult, he said, because of the limited space in the police training program, which takes 11 months to complete.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer had questions about how many of the new officers hired in the last three years were assigned to patrol. She said a police officer who attended a recent neighborhood meeting told her that his patrol area was still short dozens of officers and that a number were being assigned to other units, like the marine division.
Williams said that rank-and-file officers often have their “own view of things” and that roughly 60 percent of the officers hired in the last year have been assigned to patrol. He said another priority was rebuilding units that investigate homicides and burglaries, which he said suffered the most from the personnel reductions in recent years.
Still, Boyer and her colleagues said they weren’t ready to approve the money until they knew how many officers would be on the street and the parts of town they’d patrol.
“We are trying to fund appropriate resources in the appropriate places. I’m concerned, if we allocate additional personnel, if we’re going to get the necessary on-the-ground police officers,” Boyer said. “What I’ll be looking for is how you come back and how you’ll be using them.”
©2017 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.