Middletown deactivates 14 red light cameras

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Middletown deactivates 14 red light cameras

REVENUES GENERATED

Middletown:

$169,482 in 2014

$18,074 in 2015*

Hamilton:

$82,067 in 2014

$15,034 in 2015*

*Year to date

The city of Middletown on Monday deactivated and placed bags over 14 red light cameras located at eight intersections throughout the city to comply with a new state law.

That law, passed last year, bars municipalities, villages and townships from issuing traffic tickets to motorists caught by red light or speed cameras unless a police officer is also on the scene. Cities have argued that the new law makes traffic camera use impractical.

The Butler County communities of Middletown, Hamilton and New Miami all use some form of the devices.

“We’re done with them,” Middletown police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said Monday morning. “We actually suspended the program last night (Sunday), while the appeals (of other cities) are going on.”

Several cities, including Dayton, Springfield, Columbus, Akron and Toledo, have challenged the law in court, claiming it infringes on their home rule charters which give them the authority to self-govern themselves and to decide if they want to use the traffic cameras.

The city of Dayton reactivated its red light and speed traffic cameras just hours after turning them off to comply with the new law. The cameras remain legal in Dayton, according to the city’s interpretation of an injunction issued over the weekend by a Lucas County judge in response to a city of Toledo lawsuit to keep the cameras active.

“The injunction applies statewide,” Lynn Donaldson, Dayton’s Interim City Attorney, said. “That is the history of injunctive relief. When a law is enjoined the law is enjoined. It’s the general legal principal - it cannot be enforced and put into effect.”

Still, Middletown has temporarily put the brakes on its 10-year-old red light camera system, even going so far as to delete the Safe Streets program information from the police page on the city’s website. Muterspaw said that Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona, which provides the cameras, was in the process of placing bags over the devices Monday.

“But we’ll continue to monitor red light violations for data purposes to see if these violations go up or down (without the cameras working),” Muterspaw said, adding there are no plans to assign an officer to those intersections but there would be regular traffic enforcement patrols.

“As long as people slow down and stop, that is what really matters,” he said. “We’ll adapt to the changes, and we’re not changing how we police the city.”

Hamilton police Chief Craig Bucheit said all the new law will do is make it more labor intensive for the city to run its speed enforcement program by requiring officers to standby with a system that was built and designed to run independently. Hamilton police use a sports utility vehicle with radar and cameras mounted forward and backward to monitor speed of vehicles.

“I think it’s important to note that not all photo enforcement programs are run the same, and I applaud critics like Mike Allen for taking the time to come in and see how we operate our program,” Bucheit said. “I think it speaks volumes when someone suing and shutting down other local programs speaks out and says that the way we run our program is fair and reasonable.”

Bucheit said the city’s photo enforcement program is just one of many tools used to slow drivers down, reduce accidents and keep people safe.

“You can look at the number and ratio of citations issued, as well as the threshold for violations, and see we are not out to generate revenue,” Bucheit said. “Since Jan. 1, 2014 through February 2015, we have checked 767,804 cars and sent notice of violations to just 4,374. That is a ratio of 5 out of every 1,000 cars.

“Additionally, our violation thresholds of 10 mph over in a school zone, 12 mph over in a 25-35 mph zone, and 14 over in a less than 40 mph zones is intended to target only the most egregious violations,” he said, noting revenue generated from the cameras in 2014 was $82,067 and the most recent figure for 2015 is $15,034.

Critics of traffic enforcement cameras say cities, first and foremost, use the devices as “cash grabs” to fill their coffers, and not to improve safety.

The village of New Miami collected about $1.8 million from 44,993 citations issued during the first 15 months of its mobile speed camera program installed in 2012. The village’s program was eventually declared unconstitutional and shut down by a Butler County judge. The case has since been appealed by the village’s attorneys and has gone back and forth between the common pleas court and the 12th District Court of Appeals.

In Middletown, red light cameras have generated $18,074 from Jan. 1 to Monday. In 2014, the city collected$169,636 in revenues, which was down from $202,168 in 2013 and $200,796 in 2013. Since the program began in 2005, about $1.39 million in revenues have been generated by the cameras for the city’s general fund.

Middletown officials said the city has one year remaining on its contract with Redflex.

Les Landen, Middletown’s law director, said the city was in some earlier conversations with other Ohio cities that use speed or red light cameras, but was not a party to the recent litigation that was filed to challenge the new law. He said the other cities did not contact Middletown to find out if the city was interested in joining the lawsuit.

“We have no immediate plans, and we have not had a discussion on the matter,” Landen said of joining or filing a lawsuit. “But that doesn’t mean were not paying attention to what is going on. We’re going to keep an eye on this.”

Lucas County Judge Dean Mandros on Sunday granted the city of Toledo’s request for a temporary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the state law. Mandros says his ruling means the status quo remains for now after he found that the city has “a high likelihood of success for prevailing on the constitutionality of its system,” according to a report in the Toledo Blade.

Staff Writer Steve Bennish contributed to this report.

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