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New legislation would help slow speed camera use

Officials in communities where traffic cameras are used often try to justify the use with claims of improved safety. But one state representative isn’t buying it.

Calling traffic cameras a “nuisance to the public” that provide “zero increase to public safety,” Strongsville state Rep. Tom Patton is renewing his objections to traffic cameras by proposing several pieces of legislation to further restrict the cameras’ use.

As we’ve maintained for many years, we don’t buy the safety argument either. We believe it’s little more than policing for profit.

Patton, a Republican, did bend a bit, acknowledging that he understands the cameras’ purpose in principle. Still, he said he’s “yet to see it in practice.”

Of Patton’s seven new bills, four were introduced in the last legislative session, but didn’t get out of committee, according to this newspaper’s politics reporter David Skolnick.

Those four would prohibit:

• A community that doesn’t operate a fire department or an emergency medical service organization to use traffic photo-monitoring devices.

• A community with fewer than 200 residents from using the devices.

• A community from issuing a total number of traffic citations using the devices annually that exceeds two times its population.

• A community from getting more than 30 percent of its total annual revenue from the issuance of citations from the devices.

Additionally, the new Patton proposals would:

• Prohibit the placement of traffic cameras within a half-mile of an interstate highway entrance.

• Prohibit a community located in a county with a population of at least 1 million from using traffic cameras on interstate highways. Only Franklin and Cuyahoga counties have populations that size.

• Require 80 percent of all revenue from traffic camera citations to be used for law enforcement expenses.

The specific caveats spelled out in the legislation will create limitations that likely will be difficult for communities to maneuver.

Girard Mayor James Melfi, whose city has been using and generating significant amounts of revenue from the speed cameras for years, told our reporter that his city is “in the business of protecting citizens and pedestrians and raising revenue.” There, about 40 percent of the money collected through speed camera citations goes to the police department. The rest goes to street improvements such as paving and the purchase a few years ago of a street sweeper, and to recreational purposes.

We believe, however, that residents should have the ability to vote on levies used to fund city expenses. These fines, levied to unsuspecting motorists by bulk mailings, however, are being used to generate operating revenue for these communities.

Patton believes the cash grab is unfair and calls it a “misuse of local authority.” He believes, that if enacted, the legislation would provide reasonable restrictions.

We are pleased to see this legislator realizes the ways that opportunistic communities are taking advantage of speed cameras.

Patton explained that the proposal related to county population is because, for instance, Linndale, a community near Cleveland with about 100 residents, makes about 95 percent of its general revenues from the issuance of fines, licenses and permits generated by traffic camera citations.

That’s just wrong.

We believe officers, who often hide on bridges, overpasses or in other locations, have little intention of slowing traffic. Rather they set up with intentions of catching speeding motorists to generate revenue.

Granted, these motorists should not be speeding, but we believe officers enforcing the law while doing good police work would better serve the community, first, by parking in plain view and, then, by pulling over speeding vehicles in order to start the due process. Doing so also allows them to interact with the motorists and also to seek other suspicious activity.

Attorney Marc Dann, who is representing a group of people who got speeding citations in Girard in a class-action suit, said the cameras are a “cesspool for corruption.”

Dann, a former state attorney general with ties to the Mahoning Valley, said he co-sponsored legislation to change the traffic camera laws during his time in the state Senate from 2003 to 2006.

The cameras are “a cash grab by communities that are more concerned with money than traffic enforcement,” Dann said.

We agree. We support these efforts to rein in the use of traffic cameras and reduce what clearly has developed into a money grab and policing for profit.


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