Traffic ticket cameras in Dayton — which won a reprieve from being virtually shut down courtesy of two county court injunctions — are now recording a jump in violations this year.
Dayton’s police chief suspects it could be because drivers still think the passage of a state law killed off the cameras — all of them.
Drivers may not realize that they are still functioning and issuing tickets in Dayton, Toledo and Akron under the injunctions.
Some communities like Middletown, Hamilton, Springfield, Trotwood and West Carrollton suspended their use on March 23 — the day the law took effect.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl noted the increase in violations comes months after passage of the state law that severely restricted ticket camera use. But the law didn’t kick in until three months after Gov. John Kasich signed the bill. The cameras continued to operate, and do still in the three Ohio cities.
“There is still confusion with the public. Some citizens don’t realize they are still lawful and still in operation,” Biehl said.
From Jan. 1 2014 until March 27 of that year, Dayton’s speed ticket cameras issued 8,160 tickets. In the same period this year, the number jumped to 10,523, or a 29 percent rise, records from the city of Dayton show.
Red light violations in the same period last year were 1,821. That jumped to 2,312 this year, or 27 percent.
Comparing 2013 with 2014 figures finds speed violations down 16.7 percent and up 37 percent for red light violations in 2014.
Dayton police Detective Jason Ward said he gets around five telephone calls daily from motorists who believe the cameras are no longer issuing tickets.
“We tell them its been all over the news that they are back on,” Ward said. “We have been pro-active in letting the public know the cameras are on. I don’t know what else we can do.”
Aside from that, there’s a more disturbing jump - the number of fatal traffic accidents in Dayton this year. There have been five fatal crashes so far this year compared to none in this period last year.
Six died in the accidents. Speed was a factor in three of the wrecks, police say. Drugs or alcohol factored in three also. One was a double-fatal and one was an unsolved hit-and-run.
Biehl said his department has fielded calls from angry drivers who recently got tickets.
“People call in upset because they think they are turned off,” Biehl said. “I think there is a shift in driver behavior because they think they are off.”
Dayton has about 30 red light and speed cameras in use around the city. Dayton saw a nearly 50 percent decrease in crashes at intersections where cameras were posted after 2012.
Last week, officials in Springfield said the red light camera program isn’t likely to resume until the issue is decided by the courts. Springfield has 17 cameras at 10 different intersections, but doesn’t want to confuse drivers by turning them back on, said Mayor Warren Copeland.
The city of Middletown deactivated 14 red light cameras at eight intersections after the new state law went into effect. However, city officials met Tuesday and for now the cameras will remain deactivated until the issues have been litigated by other jurisdictions, said Maj. Mark Hoffman, assistant police chief.
“We’re not joining any other lawsuits and there is only a short amount of time left on the contract,” he said. “It’s a fairness issue and it’s now the law of the land.”
Hoffman said there would be no costs to the city if it suspends its contract with Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona.
He said over the 10 years the cameras helped to change driver behavior and a number of intersections saw decreases in the number of crashes and citations issued. In addition, he said the cameras also helped to identify some traffic engineering issues as well as patterns when there are detours due to street maintenance.
Hoffman said Redflex contacted the city and still wanted to collect the data, without the camera photos, to compare the possible violations to the number of cars going through those intersections for two weeks after the cameras were turned off.
“I’m not sure if or when we’d get that information, but I don’t mind them gathering it,” he said. “But I’m not sure how telling it would be or how useful.”
Hoffman said while the camera may indicate a motorist may have run a red light, but it may not truly be a violation, such as a group of vehicles going through an intersection as part of a funeral procession.
City officials recently told the Journal-News that Middletown’s contract with Redflex had another year left. Redflex installed the red light cameras and in return, received a portion of the civil penalties assess to motorists who ran the red lights. When the motorist receives the citation in the mail, they can either pay the $100 civil penalty, which increases $25 if not paid within 30 days; or argue against the ticket in Middletown Municipal Court. The red light camera violation were not reported to the state or to insurance companies, so violators did receive any points against their driver’s licenses or a raise in their insurance rates.
In Middletown, red light cameras have generated $18,074 from Jan. 1 to March 23. 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.
The law didn’t exactly ban the cameras, but made them pricey for cities to use. Ohio Senate Bill 342 requires jurisdictions using automated cameras to issue citations for speeding and red light violations to place officers at the devices during operation.
Hamilton police Sgt. Ed Buns, who oversees the operation of an SUV with speed camera to nab violators, said that is what the city is doing. Prior to the enactment of the new law, Hamilton police would position the unmanned camera truck at various locations throughout the city. However, police would also list those locations on its website each week.
“At this point in time we have no plans to participate in any legal challenges to the new law,” said Brandon Saurber, Hamilton’s chief of staff.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman granted a permanent injunction to Dayton earlier this month.
Gorman said the new law is intended to limit the legislative authority of municipalities, which violates home rule protections under the Ohio Constitution. Gorman said the requirement of placing an officer at the cameras amounts to telling local jurisdictions how to allocate their law enforcement officers.
“Such a requirement is nothing more than an impermissible limit on a municipality to enforce its civil administrative laws for traffic control,” she wrote.
A Lucas County judge earlier granted a preliminary injunction sought by Toledo.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office plans to appeal the rulings. Spokesman Dan Tierney said Tuesday that the appeal could take up to a year to resolve. The appeal must by law be filed within 30 days of Gorman’s ruling, or by May 2, Tierney said. It will be heard in the Second District Court of Appeals in Dayton.
The case could go to the Ohio Supreme Court, which has ruled the cameras are constitutional.
In rare cases, when a federal issue is involved, the case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, Tierney said.
Biehl said he’d like to see more data over a longer period of time before reaching a final conclusion.
“Is this a short-term behavior or a long-term pattern?” he asked. “It’s going in the wrong direction, that’s for sure.”
Staff Writers Ed Richter and Michael Cooper contributed to this report.