Why the NAACP wants Dayton voters to decide on traffic cameras

Dayton’s automated red light and speed cameras aren’t issuing fines yet, but already they face an uncertain future.

That’s because the Dayton Unit NAACP plans to start circulating a petition to put a measure on next year’s ballot that would restrict use of the devices to only those times during which a police officer is present, said Derrick Foward, the Dayton Unit’s president.

The Dayton Unit NAACP opposes automated traffic cameras for economic justice reasons and wants Dayton voters to decide whether they should be allowed to operate in the community, Foward said.

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The least affluent communities in Montgomery County have automated traffic cameras, and it’s unfair that the local residents who can least afford to pay fines live in areas where these cameras are being placed, Foward said.

“Let’s put it out the ballot and let voters make the decision,” Foward said. “If the voters say, ‘We want the cameras,’ then so be it … but at least the people have had an opportunity to speak.”

But Dayton’s elected leadership have strongly defended using automated traffic cameras, saying they change dangerous driving behaviors and reduce auto crashes.

Asked about traffic cameras at an NAACP candidate forum last month, Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams said traffic studies show the cameras truly improve safety for motorists and pedestrians.

He said crashes have increased significantly at the intersections where the old cameras were located but have been turned off.

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Dayton recently started installing automated red light and speed-detection cameras at five locations across the city.

The city for years had a traffic camera program but shelved it in 2015 after state lawmakers imposed tough new restrictions on the devices.

But Dayton can once again cite motorists using automated cameras because the Ohio Supreme Court struck down provisions of a state law requiring police to be present while the devices are in operation and documenting traffic violations.

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The Dayton Unit NAACP’s membership has voted in support of circulating petitions for a ballot initiative restricting how and when traffic cameras can be operated to issue citations, Foward said.

The Dayton Unit will help collect signatures with the goal of putting a charter amendment on the November 2018 ballot.

The city charter says a successful petition must contain the signatures of 10 percent of the total number of registered voters in the city of Dayton, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

The amendment would require police officers to be stationed at the cameras when they are photographing vehicles that are driving too fast or running red lights, Foward said.

The three Montgomery County communities that have used red light and speed cameras all have median incomes below $40,000, Foward said. They also have the highest rates of poverty and share of residents without health insurance in the county, he said.

More affluent communities, like Oakwood and Springboro, do not use traffic cameras even though they have plenty of roadways where crashes happen and motorists do not always obey the traffic laws, he said.

Foward said the Dayton Unit NAACP is concerned about safety, just like the city of Dayton.

But, he said, many residents cannot afford to pay expensive fines, and failure to pay can lead to bigger troubles, like having their vehicles towed and impounded.

Quoting Charlie Luken, Cincinnati’s former mayor, Foward said, “Let’s be honest with the public. We didn’t think about this until we came up with a budget problem.”

Foward said if the ballot initiative passes, the city can still use traffic cameras, as long as police are present. He said the Dayton Police Department can use its resources selectively and strategically to target dangerous intersections at the times and dates when crashes are most likely to occur.

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