I-Team: The future of red light and speed cameras

Published: Apr. 23, 2019 at 5:32 PM EDT
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It's the eye in the sky that sees you but you may never see it. A few weeks later you might be out $120. Toledo's speed and red light cameras are once again coming under the microscope. There's not one but two efforts to possibly end them.

Will either or both work?

Toledoan Chester Straley reviews his tickets closely before he either pays them or fights them.

"This citation comes from a company sent to the city of Toledo and then some officers signs off on it electronically and then it gets sent to me from the company. I'm not getting a citation from him. He didn't see the incident," said Straley.

Some call it big brother, some call it a money grab while others call it a safety tool. Throughout the city you'll find 20 stationary cameras monitoring speed and red light violations. 7 cameras do just red light and 1 camera monitors just speed, that's near the Toledo Zoo. Each time they catch a violator it'll cost the driver $120.

"I think it's more of a cash grab. if you're looking at the citywide finances there's always a pretty large deficit without these cameras," said Ron Johns Jr., who is starting a petition campaign to ban the cameras.

Johns and his team hope to get it on the November 2019 ballot.

"I don't even think there would need to be commercials or anything. I think someone would just see this and go 'I freakin hate those cameras yeah let's get rid of them,'” said Johns.

One thing people hate is the money generated from these cameras. The 13abc I-Team has learned that in 2018 the stationary and hand held cameras generated over $7.3 million for the city. Through the end of March 2019 those cameras have generated $1.3 million.

"When you see these technologies bringing in the kind of revenues they do, I understand why some people would think automatically that these are a money grab," said Toledo Police Chief George Kral.

Chief Kral hears complaints about these cameras at just about every meeting he attends. He cites safety as his number one reason for supporting the cameras. In fact he says his department never sees the money generated from them.

"If there's no fear that maybe you may be getting your picture taken and get a pretty substantial fine then people are just going to speed without any due regard for the safety of others," said Chief Kral.

There is a chance on two fronts that these cameras may go away. One is the petition drive. If voters say "Yes", it's not clear yet if this can be legally be imposed on police or if the department possesses the authority to use them under its police powers.

The second offensive on the cameras comes from Columbus. Legislators slipped into the most recent transportation bill a provision saying the state will withhold money corresponding to the revenue generated form camera violations. The city of Toledo expects to challenge this in court.

The city has already scored one victory in the Supreme Court on these cameras. Legislators tried to outlaw any camera violation without an officer observation. That led to a push for officer operated hand held camera and almost ended stationary ones. But the Supreme Court sided with both Dayton and Toledo saying cities can decide how they want to police their own cities.

"It seems like it's going away slowly but surely but we really want to knock it down as fast as possible," said Johns.

Johns hopes the petition drive ends them permanently. Others could support a middle ground.

"If Toledo has its own camera system, was doing it on their own, I'm fine with it because then it puts the officer's discretion in there," said Straley.

Redflex operates the logistics and business aspect of Toledo's cameras. The company takes a portion of the money made from each ticket. It's the same company where executives have been convicted of bribery in another Ohio city but there have been no allegations or charges in Toledo. So should Toledo take over?

"I'm not worried about the corruption aspect of it. If we were to take it over I don't think it's feasible. We just don't have the people to do it," said Chief Kral.

Whether through petitions, legislators or courts and what whatever the camera future looks like Chief Kral reminds people of one thing.

"This is 100% voluntary program. I promise every citizen of this city and whomever travels through this city if you go 11 miles an hour or less under the speed limit you won't get a ticket," said Chief Kral.

Some have complained about the process of fighting the ticket, which you can do. These tickets are a civil violation. So you don't appear before a judge. You can request to appear before a hearing officer, who is a lawyer.

He or she will review the video and hear your case. That's when it will be determined if you need to pay the fine.

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