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Traffic-camera law backfires in Ohio

Two communities in the Mahoning Valley use handheld cameras

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Associated Press


A state law meant to effectively ban the use of traffic enforcement cameras is proving to have unintended consequences: motorists speeding along busy Ohio freeways getting a lot more tickets.

The Legislature thought it could end unpopular traffic-camera enforcement with a provision requiring a full-time officer to be present when an automated enforcement camera catches a speeder. But some communities have found a lucrative route around the rule by stationing officers with camera-equipped speed guns beside and above highways — rather than the local roadways where stationary cameras had been confined.

The communities of Youngstown, Hubbard Township and Newburgh Heights have already adopted programs in which camera-carrying officers target speeders.

“We could write 1,000 tickets a day if we wanted to,” said Newburgh Heights Mayor Travis Elkins. About 200 tickets have been mailed since officers in the village of about 2,100 people began using the hand-held cameras in late August, he said.

As many as 90,000 cars a day pass through the village on Interstate 77 on a normal work day, Elkins said. Using the new speed cameras on an overpass is far safer for officers compared with trying to chase down speeders in a cruiser. A village officer was struck by a drunk driver on I-77 last December, he noted.

The hand-held cameras allow officers to get keep a bead on a speeding car then snap a picture of its license plate when it gets in range. Officials in the communities using them say they’ve received inquiries from other departments in the state.

State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, who views camera enforcement as a municipal cash grab, helped write the law that had been viewed as tantamount to a prohibition on camera enforcement. The Legislature couldn’t enact an outright ban because of two Ohio Supreme Court decisions that said cities can use enforcement cameras.

“Technology has outstripped our ability to play whac-a-mole with these things,” Seitz said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I have no idea how to combat the problem.”

Communities across the country began using the hand-held cameras only in the last few years.