Is Brooksville's red-light program for public safety or generating revenue?

If you don't want to read what a blowhard columnist thinks about Brooksville's red-light camera program, at least pay attention to Bill Eppley.

"I have absolutely no problem with this ordinance as it relates to persons violating a red light and running directly through the intersection,'' he wrote to the city on Thursday.

But, he added, in the cases he's examined, drivers have merely rolled through right turns on red without coming to a complete stop.

"These are not issues that deal with public safety. I have reviewed all the tapes that have been presented to date and have not seen one instance where a traffic hazard was presented.

"The city's position is that this is a safety issue and not a revenue issue, when that is clearly not the case,'' Eppley wrote.

There's a reason Eppley's word on this subject should carry more weight than mine: Besides being a former city attorney, he was the hearing officer who reviewed the cases of all red-light runners who appealed their $125 tickets.

Notice the "was.'' The passages I quoted are from his letter of resignation. He also criticized an ordinance forbidding loud car stereos for its subjective enforcement and excessive fines — as high as $750 for repeat offenders.

"The fines are ridiculous,'' Eppley told me Thursday. "I just got fed up.''

In defense of the red-light program, police Chief George Turner said that the only people who pay are the ones who break the law.

Also, turning right on red without stopping can be just as dangerous as blowing through an intersection, Turner said. In fact, the only accident caused by a violation captured on film happened when a driver turning right struck a woman pushing a stroller across Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard.

Finally, he said, state law doesn't distinguish between varying degrees of red-light running and imposes a much more serious penalty for the offense than the city code: $219 plus four points against a driver's license.

Okay, but here are few factors that make the cameras look like a sneaky new tax — an unfair one, too, because it can hit struggling families when they are least prepared to pay.

After the city gives a cut to the private company that installed the cameras, the tickets are expected to raise about $800,000 for Brooksville this fiscal year and seem to be part of a general ticket-writing, revenue-generating spree.

Putting aside the loud-stereo and red-light infractions, police officers wrote 1,198 traffic tickets from June to August of this year compared to 305 over the same period in 2008, an increase of 293 percent, according to a story by my colleague Joel Anderson.

Back to the camera program: An early analysis showed about 70 percent of the drivers were ticketed for failing to come to a complete stop while turning right.

In light of all this, I think Eppley had a good suggestion. Cut the fine for drivers who aren't really endangering others. Police officers who already review tape of every offense could make this judgment. So, Eppley said, could the hearing officer.

Otherwise, the law will lose the support of residents, he wrote:

"When ordinances only serve the government for the sake of sustaining government, (they) will not pass the test of public scrutiny.''

And he should know.

Is Brooksville's red-light program for public safety or generating revenue? 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 8:16pm]

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