Publicizing speed-enforcement van efforts reduces amount of citations issued

A speed-enforcement van scans traffic along Eaton Avenue in Hamilton. The Hamilton Police Department works with Redflex Traffic Systems to review photographs and video to verify the accuracy of each citation before it is issued.

Combined ShapeCaption
A speed-enforcement van scans traffic along Eaton Avenue in Hamilton. The Hamilton Police Department works with Redflex Traffic Systems to review photographs and video to verify the accuracy of each citation before it is issued.


BY THE NUMBERS

Recent Speed-Enforcement Van Efforts

113: amount of times the speed van has been deployed since Jan. 25

230,000: amount of vehicles it has checked.

1,300: amount of citations issued. (5.6 citations for every 1,000 vehicles checked.)

School zones

2011: before publicizing the speed enforcement, 18 to 20 citations per 1,000 vehicles checked

2013: 5.6 tickets written per 1,000 vehicles checked.

Neilan Boulevard

2011: 37 vehicles per 1,000

2013: 1 vehicle per 1,000.

Fairgrove Avenue

2011: 21.6 per 1,000.

2013: 2.6 per 1,000

Source: Hamilton Police Department.

Staying with the story

The Hamilton JournalNews continues to bring you in-depth coverage of speed cameras. From Hamilton Police policies to efforts under way at the state level to ban all speed cameras, our reporters are bringing you the latest developments in this important issue.

Motorists in Hamilton are not only taking notice of speed cameras, they’re being ticketed less often, according to Hamilton Police Department statistics.

Locations are based on certain criteria, including schools, parks, sites of prior crashes and “places where we can justify it for public safety,” according to Sgt. Ed Buns,

Hamilton police started employing a speed van in April 2010, but didn’t start using Facebook and the city’s website to inform motorists where it would be each day until last year.

The result have been “significant drops” in the number of citations, said Sgt. Ed Buns, who is the department’s traffic section supervisor.

In school zones, where police were writing between 18 to 20 citations per 1,000 vehicles checked, they are now averaging 5.6 tickets written per 1,000 vehicles checked.

At Eaton Avenue and Wilson Middle School, there are, on average, just 1.5 citations per 1,000 vehicles.

In the area of Neilan Boulevard, 37 vehicles per 1,000 checked had received tickets in the past. Now that number is down to 1 per 1,000.

The same reduction occurred in the 1900 block Fairgrove Avenue, as motorists pass the county fairgrounds.

“Obviously, that’s an area with a lot of kids, cars and cross streets,” Buns said. “(In 2011,) we were in the area of 20 to 22 per 1,000. We’re now down to 4.5.”

Publicizing the speed van locations began in the middle of 2012, after Scott Scrimizzi became the department’s police chief.

“Chief Scrimizzi, Captain Craig Bucheit, their attitude has been ‘We’re saying it is (for) traffic safety. We’re saying it is to slow the public down, so why not publicize where it’s going to be and get traffic slowed down?’ ” Buns said.

Those who are getting the tickets in the area of each speed van deployment are the people who are “basically thumbing their noses and saying ‘We don’t care,’ ” Buns said.

The only place that hasn’t seen a marked reduction in citations in the Ohio 4 Bypass, which has “the potential for serious accidents,” Buns said.

The speed limit on the bypass is 50 MPH but some motorists reach an average of 70 MPH and one clocked in at 93 MPH.

“If you get a vehicle doing a U-turn in front of you (on the bypass’ superstreet configuration) and you blast that car at 70 miles per hour, we’re going to be picking up car parts and body parts for a long distance,” Buns said.

Buns admitted that he once was a “vocal opponent” of speed van because he believed urban legend.

“When I came in here, I told Captain Bucheit and Chief Scrimizzi, if i don’t believe in the program, I can’t do it,” Buns said. “I (then) looked at the program, the validations, the video, the everything else, and said if I was sitting in a cruiser, I’d write these people a ticket myself.”

Unlike unmanned speed cameras that operate on a 24-7 basis and are calibrated as infrequently as once a year, Hamilton’s program sees police calibrating the speed van cameras before and after every use and filling out a form each time to keep a written record of doing so, Buns said.

Because microwave-based radars have a margin of error of 1 or 2 miles per hour, Buns and other staffers trained to run radar also review a video of every car issued a citation from its mobile speed van, looking at other vehicles before and after the alleged speeder to verify speed.

The two-part approval process also sees Redflex Traffic Systems, the company with which the police department contracts for the speed van technology, reviewing each video.

Citations can and are rejected for a multitude of reasons, including poor video quality obscuring a license plate, inclement weather or interference from fan refrigeration units on tractor trailers.

“That’s the reason when people are trained to run radar, you look at the vehicle. You don’t just take that speed popping up in front of you,” Buns said.

The speed camera system also keeps a license-plate based record of how many times a vehicle has been cited since the inception of the program in 2010.

For example, on June 19, a vehicle was clocked doing 58 MPH in the 35 MPH zone in the 700 block of South Erie Boulevard

“(The vehicle’s registration) comes back to a business here in Hamilton and this is the third citation that license plate has been issued,” Buns said. “58 in a 35. That tells me these people just don’t care.

Locations aren’t based on a whim or a complaint or two, Buns said. Before stationing the speed-enforcement van at any location, Hamilton police first use a speed trailer and other technology to measure, not cite, motorists’ speed and gauge the necessity of doing so.

People don’t like speed-enforcement technology, including a distrust of “new science,” the inability to talk their way out of a ticket and the fact that the ticket goes to the vehicle’s owner, not the person behind the wheel at the time of the speeding citation, Buns said.

Area residents say speed cameras are all about money-making.

“It is a cash grab for an overinflated government,’ said one resident on the JournalNews’ Facebook page. “Anyone who can stand there with a straight face and claim this is about safety should go into politics.”

Buns said he gets frustrated by such “just-to-make-money” sentiments.

Since he took over the speed van program on Jan. 25, the speed van has been deployed 113 times, checking 230,000 vehicles, but written just 1,300 citations.

That comes out to 5.6 citations for every 1,000 vehicles checked.

“That’s not out there to screw the public and make money,” Buns said.

Residents also say police should use actual officers to pull speeders over and decry how speed cameras take jobs away from the community.

“The Hamilton Police Department would prefer to have police officers enforcing traffic laws,” Buns said. “However, due to the economy and the loss of local government and other funding sources from the state, the Hamilton Police Department has 24 less officers than we did three years ago.”

While hiring more officers would be the preferred course, Hamilton only has a finite amount of funds to provide all city services, he said.

“If there is no money available to hire additional officers, jobs are not being taken away, as there are not jobs to be had,” Buns said.

With efforts under way at the state level to ban all speed cameras, Buns is resigned to the fact that it may only be a matter of time before Hamilton’s regulated speed enforcement system is just a memory.

Buns, who testified in April before the Ohio House of Representatives’ Transportation Committee regarding the bill before the house, is frustrated by lawmakers resistance to learning about methods that would standardize and regulate statewide enforcement.

“The problem is, and I’m not speaking ill of our legislature, but they don’t educate themselves on bills,” Buns said. “They react by emotion and what somebody has told them or sadly, in some cases, what gets the most votes in the next election.”

A substitute house bill that would have put controls on pending legislation was shot down. That bill, Buns said, would have negated the issues raised in Hamilton County and other areas that have faced speed-enforcement challenges.

If the speed camera legislation is passed the way it is right now, it would be tantamount to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” he said.

Buns said Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller invited six or seven state representatives to witness firsthand the controls police in Hamilton follow to ensure accuracy before citing a vehicle.

“If after that you say you still don’t believe it, by golly vote your conscience, but don’t vote on myth,” he said, noting that to date, not one legislator has accepted the offer.

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