The city of Dayton may once again use traffic cameras to cite motorists, but the program would be designed to comply with tough new restrictions on the technology.
The city intends to have red light and speed cameras at about 10 fixed locations across the city, according to recent request for proposals. The city also wants six hand-held and two mobile photo enforcement devices.
“I think it positions us to re-initiate this enforcement and do it in a way that is compliant with the most recent law,” said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.
The city for years used automated red light and speed cameras to fine motorists who violated traffic laws.
But the city suspended its program last July because a new state law requires police officers to be present and monitoring the camera equipment in order to issue fines.
Critics said the new requirements made operating camera programs too onerous and expensive.
The city experienced an increase in traffic fatalities and red light and speeding infractions at the intersections with cameras after the photo-enforcement program was shelved, Biehl said.
The city would likely issue far fewer citations using cameras staffed by police officers, but hopefully the program would make Dayton safer for drivers and pedestrians, he said.
Groups that oppose automated cameras claim they are merely revenue-generators for local jurisdictions seeking to fill their coffers.
“I have always maintained that photo-enforcement cameras were more about money than safety,” Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said last year.
The Dayton Police Department has asked for proposals from vendors for a multi-year photo enforcement camera system. Vendors were asked how they would design and install a camera system, process violations, provide training for city employees and launch a public awareness campaign about the program. Bids were due Tuesday.
The city could choose to expand the network, depending on the findings of a speed study and analysis of crash data, according to city documents.
Staff will review vendors’ proposals and city leadership will decide if a new camera program is financially feasible, said Biehl.
Dayton became more dangerous for drivers after its cameras no longer were used for enforcement after the new rules took effect, Biehl said. The most stringent rule was that officers must be present for cameras to issue citations.
The city had at least 25 fatal crashes last year, up from 16 in 214 and 15 in 2013.
The city also found there were more speeding violations and motorists running red lights at the monitored areas after the cameras stopped resulting in fines, Biehl said.
Crash data for the monitored intersections was only available through the end of September. The city said it soon hopes to have data for the full year.
Biehl said the police department wants to promote a safer driving environment at a time when staffing levels are historically low. He said crashes take up officers’ valuable time.
“It has a proven record of reducing accidents, particularly those kinds of accidents with the greatest potential for injury,” Biehl said.
However, the program under consideration would be limited by the need to place an officer at the camera equipment, Biehl said.
“We will only have the ability to do it on a very limited basis,” he said. “In fact, it will be the exception rather than the rule to do this enforcement because it is labor intensive.”
Biehl said the locations of the cameras would be determined using historical crash data to identify the areas with the greatest frequency of incidents.
Dayton Commissioner Matt Joseph said if the program materializes, the city would conduct targeted enforcement at the worst intersections that is in full compliance with state law.
Joseph said the photo-enforcement program was always about safety — not revenue — and Dayton’s roads were safer when the program was in full effect.
“The state took a tool out of our arsenal for making sure our citizens are safe … and it was a tool that helped the city spend less on emergency responses,” Joseph said.
Dayton installed its first red-light cameras in 2003.
In 2014, the city’s camera system was responsible for issuing 47,636 speeding citations and 8,651 red light citations. The city collected more than $1.7 million in photo-enforcement fines in 2015, even though the cameras stopped operating in July.
The city netted almost $7.3 million since 2012.
“We always knew it wasn’t about public safety. It was about money,” said Sen. Seitz in a prepared statement last year. Seitz sponsored the legislation that enacted tough restrictions on cameras.
The city of Dayton sued the state, claiming the new law is unconstitutional because it violates home rule. The city lost on appeal but asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on the case.
The newspaper is committed to bringing you the latest developments related to the use of photo-enforcement technology on area roadways. We covered the fight over red-light and speed-detection cameras and the city of Dayton’s efforts to keep its traffic camera program operating.