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Krise-O-Meter: St. Petersburg mayor breaks campaign promise on red-light cameras

Mayor Rick Kriseman sent a memo to City Council members saying that red-light cameras have changed driver behavior and that the city of St. Petersburg is now safer.

LARA CERRI | Times

Mayor Rick Kriseman sent a memo to City Council members saying that red-light cameras have changed driver behavior and that the city of St. Petersburg is now safer.

ST. PETERSBURG — During the election, mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman never wavered in his support of red-light cameras.

"I will utilize red-light cameras at the most dangerous intersections for the purposes of public safety, not revenue," Kriseman wrote last summer in a questionnaire about his platform.

He repeated that line often in the months that followed, and when asked, said his focus was not, and never has been, on the money the tickets bring in. His promise was specific and one of 25 being tracked by the Krise-O-Meter, a project of PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times.

Yet earlier this month, in the face of mounting controversy surrounding the cameras, Kriseman sent a memo to City Council members saying St. Petersburg would end its camera program by September, when the projected revenues from red-light violations would no longer cover program costs.

"After two years of the implementation of this program, it is clear that red-light cameras have done their jobs, that driver behavior is changing, and that St. Petersburg is now safer," Kriseman wrote in his March 5 memo.

He went on to say that because driver behavior changed, "we have seen a decrease in the revenue generated by these cameras."

The next day, the council embraced the mayor's proposal and voted 6-2 to get rid of the cameras.

Council member Jim Kennedy, who was on the losing side of the vote, said he was surprised by the mayor's new position and thought it was strange to shutter the program in the name of revenue when officials have said the concern is public safety.

"To me, even if there's a small cost to them, it's all about safety," Kennedy said.

In the first two years of the program, the cameras generated $841,862 for the city's general fund, according to a report released in January.

But city officials projected that figure will get smaller as fewer people get tickets.

Right now, the city sends $83 of each ticket to the state. It splits the rest with the camera vendor. It also must pay former police officers to review the footage of the cameras.

Kriseman has defended his proposal to wind-down the program and doesn't believe it represents an about-face on his part.

"I think there is an assumption inherent in the campaign promise: that if the cameras do their jobs, they change behavior, and as behaviors change, crashes are reduced," spokesman Ben Kirby said via email this week. "Had driver behavior not changed — had safety not improved — Mayor Kriseman would still be utilizing the cameras."

However, there will no doubt continue to be red-light runners beyond September — just not enough to generate the cash the city would need to administer the program.

Kriseman promised to use red-light cameras for public safety and not revenue. However, he cited budgetary concerns as a reason to end the program.

We rate his campaign pledge as a Promise Broken.

Krise-O-Meter: St. Petersburg mayor breaks campaign promise on red-light cameras 03/22/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 22, 2014 10:19pm]
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