State wants to make using traffic cameras more difficult

Showdown between Dayton, state shaping up over traffic cameras

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city is prepared to sue the state if it tries to financially penalize Ohio cities for operating traffic camera programs.

The state transportation budget bill, signed Wednesday by Gov. Mike DeWine, includes language that will make it more difficult for cities to use traffic cameras.

Ohio will go after the money cities generate from the cameras - which in Dayton’s case was nearly $1.9 million last year.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says the city is prepared to sue the state if it tries to financially penalize Ohio cities for operating traffic camera programs. She said the traffic cameras make Dayton’s roadways safer and reduce crashes.STAFF/CORNELIUS FROLIK
Photo: Staff Writer

Ohio will require cities to tell the state how much they collect in fines from automated traffic camera tickets. That amount would be deducted from state money that flows to the cities.

Ohio may also increase cities court costs by requiring them to file each case in court rather than use an administrative process.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says the city is prepared to sue the state if it tries to financially penalize Ohio cities for operating traffic camera programs. She said the traffic cameras make Dayton’s roadways safer and reduce crashes.

Whaley said she thinks the state legislature’s plan is illegal because it violates the Ohio Constitution’s home rule protections and would be overturned by the courts.

“We will sue them like we did last time,” said Whaley, referencing the city’s successful challenge of a state law requiring police officers to be present when automated cameras are in use to issue fines. “This is a straight preemption issue, which the Ohio Supreme Court has already ruled on.”

MORE: State goes after red-light, speed cameras; Dayton Mayor Whaley not happy

Ohio would require cities to tell the state how much they collect in fines from automated traffic camera tickets. That amount would be deducted from state money that flows to the cities.

Ohio may also increase cities court costs by requiring them to file each case in court rather than use an administrative process.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says the city is prepared to sue the state if it tries to financially penalize Ohio cities for operating traffic camera programs. She said the traffic cameras make Dayton’s roadways safer and reduce crashes.

Whaley said she thinks the state legislature’s plan is illegal because it violates the Ohio Constitution’s home rule protections and would be overturned by the courts.

“We will sue them like we did last time,” said Whaley, referencing the city’s successful challenge of a state law requiring police officers to be present when automated cameras are in use to issue fines. “This is a straight preemption issue, which the Ohio Supreme Court has already ruled on.”

City says cameras make streets safer

Crash data consistently have shown that traffic cameras change motorist behavior and result in safer roadways, according to city officials.

Dayton saw a 40 percent increase in traffic crashes between 2014 and 2016, after shutting off its cameras, police data show.

Injury crashes declined more than 15 percent in the first half of 2018, which city officials attributed to the return of traffic cameras.

MORE: State goes after red-light, speed cameras; Dayton Mayor Whaley not happy

In October 2017, the city of Dayton restarted its photo enforcement traffic camera program, beginning with a mobile speed trailer that records the license plates of speeding motorists in order to issue fines by mail.

Police then started using handheld automated speed detection cameras that officers point at passing cars to record violations. Unlike standard speed-detection guns, the devices do not require police to pull over motorists to cite them.

Last year, the city during the course of five months installed 10 fixed red light and speed detection cameras at five locations across the city.

Dayton has less than half as many fixed automated traffic cameras as it did during the peak years of its photo enforcement program, before the state put tough new restrictions on the devices, which caused the city to unplug its cameras.

In March 2015, a law took effect that required cities using traffic cameras to station a full-time police officer with each camera in use; conduct a three-year traffic study before deploying a camera; give speeders a “leeway” before issuing tickets.

Dayton challenged the 2015 law in court.

UPDATE: Here’s where Dayton has moved its mobile speed cameras

In July 2017, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the 2015 state law that makes it all but impossible for cities to use automatic traffic cameras is unconstitutional because it conflicts with cities’ home rule powers. The decision delivered cities a big win on home rule powers and gave cities the go-ahead to turn the traffic cameras back on.

More than 58,000 citations issued in 2018

In 2018, the city of Dayton approved about 58,125 citations for speeding and red light violations caught on camera, according to police data analyzed by this newspaper.

About 42 percent of violations were from fixed speed cameras, 31 percent were from handheld automated cameras, 21 percent were from mobile speed trailers and about 5 percent were from fixed red light cameras.

The fixed cameras were not fully operational until around July.

WARNING: 10,000+ already caught speeding on two new Dayton traffic cameras

The city’s financial system recorded $1.89 million in net revenue from the photo enforcement program in 2018, which is the haul after payments to the program vendor, hearing officers and refunds, said a Dayton police spokeswoman.

The city collected $1.7 million in net revenue from its photo enforcement program in 2014, $1.84 million in 2013 and $2.5 million in 2012, city data show. Those estimates were for fixed cameras only, and do not include revenue from citations issued using speed vans or trailers.

Whaley said state lawmakers want to make local decisions without having to run for mayor or city leadership positions, which flies in the face of home rule and local control.

“Ohio has been called the ‘Home Rule State,’ because it is such a key part of the constitution,” she said.

Revenue from the photo enforcement program is designated strictly for public safety programs, she said.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, last year argued that new restrictions would test cities’ claims that use of the cameras is all about traffic safety and not about generating revenue.

“The simple theory here is that if political subdivisions chose to rely on red light and speed cameras to raise their revenues, they do not need our Local Government Fund money to that extent,” Seitz said.

Mayor Whaley was disappointed Gov. DeWine did not veto the traffic camera restrictions out of the transportation budget before signing it Wednesday night.

“I’m disappointed that no one in Columbus ever stands up for self governance and local control even when the Supreme Court has already ruled that is what our constitution says,” Whaley said.

“I was hopeful the governor was serious about partnering with cities. he talked about how it was important to pass this bill and keep people safe. And yet now he’s going after a proven tactic that works to keep people safe.”

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