In front of Belmont High School, there’s a mobile speed camera operated by Dayton police. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Dayton quietly unplugged red light, speed cameras in fight with state

Dayton is still using some speed cameras in school zones.

Dayton quietly pulled the plug on its fixed red light and speed-detection cameras months ago as the city continues its legal battle with the state over its photo-enforcement program.

With no fanfare, the city late last summer stopped using its fixed traffic cameras to record violations and issue citation notices. That contributed to a dramatic reduction in fines, according to data obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Photo-enforcement citations hit a high of 8,949 in May, but then fell to 609 in September and 492 in October, police data show.

But the city’s photo-enforcement program remains active and has been modified to focus on traffic enforcement in school zones, said John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel.

Citations from the city’s mobile speed trailers more than doubled in November and then nearly quadrupled in December.

“We’ve focused more on the school zones, and the easiest way to focus on the school zones is to use the trailers,” Musto said.

Dayton’s program changes mean the city is not at the same risk of losing a chunk of its local government funds.

Under state law, the state can withhold local government funds from jurisdictions that use photo-enforcement technology, but if they use the devices in school zones, the money is repaid for school-safety uses.

MORE: Dayton buys itself time in challenge of red-light, traffic cameras

The city of Dayton’s photo-enforcement program has used handheld speed-detection cameras, mobile speed trailers and fixed-site red light and speed detection cameras.

Dayton’s stationary, automated speed cameras were activated in 2018 and installed at 100 S. Keowee St., 1200 N. Gettysburg Ave., 3300 N. Main St., West Third Street and James H. McGee Boulevard and Linden Avenue and South Smithville Road.

The city’s five fixed red light cameras are at West Third and James H. McGee Boulevard and South Smithville and Linden Avenue.

Last year, traffic violations recorded by the city’s fixed red light and speed cameras resulted in motorists being issued 3,122 citations in January; 2,902 citations in February; 3,987 in March; and 5,429 in April, according to police data obtained by this newspaper.

Citations from Dayton’s fixed cameras peaked at 6,354 in May.

But by September, the fixed cameras no longer were being used to issue motorists fines in the mail.

In September, the police department only had two speed trailers in operation that resulted in 609 citations being mailed out, the data show. Police only issued 492 photo-enforcement citations in October.

MORE: Hit-and-run crashes with injury increase in Dayton

A new state law went into effect in July that requires cities that have automated photo-enforcement programs to report the amount of money they receive in fines to the state.

The state uses that information to penalize the jurisdictions by reducing their local government fund allocations by the same amount of fines they received.

Dayton received nearly $1.9 million in net revenue from its photo-enforcement program in 2018.

The city expected to receive about $6.6 million in local government funds in 2019.

The city has challenged the constitutionality of the new law in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, arguing it violates home rule protections.

The state is using the same recycled arguments it did to defend a state law that imposed traffic camera restrictions that the Ohio Supreme Court ended up overturning, Musto said.

“It’s another attempt on their part to make a de facto prohibition of photo-enforcement — making it so expensive and onerous to the point that local governments won’t use it,” Musto said. “Which is the same thing the Ohio Supreme Court found unconstitutional when they did it back in 2015.”

The city received a temporary injunction in late July, and Common Pleas Judge Mary Katherine Huffman granted the city a preliminary injunction at the end of October that blocks the state from enforcing the new law.

The city and state both have asked the court for summary judgment in the case.

Traffic cameras are a significant deterrent that changes driving behaviors and make the city’s roadways safer, Musto said.

MORE: Dayton sues state over red light, speed cameras

Dayton’s photo enforcement program remained operational over the summer, but the city reduced the number of locations and reconfigured the program to focus on school zones, Musto said.

The state law passed last year specifically addresses traffic cameras in school zones.

Usually, when the state reduces jurisdictions’ local government allocations for using photo enforcement technology, the funds are deposited into an Ohio highway and transportation safety fund in the district where the the local authority is situated.

But local government funds withheld for fines in school zones are repaid to the local authority to be used specifically for school-safety purposes.

Traffic camera citations began rising again late last year.

Using mobile speed trailers, the city cited nearly 1,100 motorists in November. The city upped the number of trailers, and citations rose to 4,142 in December.

Dayton’s original 2019 budget projected the city would receive $3.82 million in photo enforcement funds.

The city’s 2020 projected budget estimated it would collect $345,000 in revenue.

MORE: Showdown between Dayton, state shaping up over traffic cameras

Dayton started using red light cameras in the early 2000s. The city has used speed-detection cameras since 2010, and the city collected more than $9.1 million in net photo enforcement receipts between 2011 and 2015.

However, the city suspended its program and shut off its cameras in July 2015, after state lawmakers enacted tough legal restrictions.

But after the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the regulations, the city started reactivating fixed-site cameras in 2018.

“The city of Dayton will continue with its photo enforcement program that has been proven to reduce accidents, save lives, and make Dayton’s streets safer,” Toni Bankston, a city spokesperson, said last year.

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