Ohio Cities in Statehouse Fight to Save Red Light Cameras

Supporters say red light cameras are proven to reduce traffic accidents, but opponents see them as little more than municipal cash grabs.

by Jim Siegel, McClatchy News Service / May 28, 2014

City advocates and police officials say that a bill requiring officers to be present at every red-light camera location would essentially ban use of the devices.

The battle over the use of red-light cameras continues at the Statehouse, where supporters say they are proven to reduce traffic accidents, but opponents see them as little more than municipal cash grabs.

The Ohio House voted 11 months ago for a bill that would ban municipalities from using red-light and speed cameras except for limited use in school zones. But with concerns that the bill could violate constitutionally protected “home rule,” Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, crafted an alternative that would allow use of the cameras only when a police officer is present at the intersection.

Lt. Brent Mull, head of the traffic unit for the Columbus Division of Police, said one officer currently is assigned to oversee citations from the city’s 47 red-light cameras. Under Seitz’s bill, the city would need 47 officers on each of three shifts, costing approximately $15.4 million annually, the nonprofit Traffic Safety Coalition calculated.

“The proposal goes far beyond being unreasonable and is out of touch with reality,” Mull said. “ This technology has changed driver behavior for the good and made Columbus streets safer.”

In 2013, Columbus issued 3,774 citations through its red-light cameras and collected $2.1 million in revenue, about $170,000 less than in 2012 but nearly double the revenue from 2011. Red-light traffic accidents at those intersections were down 73 percent through 2012, according to city data.

Mike Weinmann of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio said cameras have proved to be effective at reducing traffic accidents and have freed up police officers to deal with crimes. Requiring an officer at every intersection, he said, “is a thinly veiled ban. We don’t have the resources for that.”

City leaders and police are instead rallying around a new bill by Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, that includes new regulations but no requirement that an officer be present.

Bacon’s bill would require cities to:

  • Install signs at intersections where cameras are located and at the city border.
  • Conduct a safety study at an intersection before installing cameras.
  • Lengthen yellow-light times to at least one second longer than state minimum.
  • Have a law-enforcement officer review all violations captured by a camera.

George Speaks, Columbus safety director, said that under Bacon’s bill, the city would not have to alter its current camera procedures, which he called a national model.

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)