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Brooksville weighs installing cameras to catch red-light runners

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville is considering the use of cameras to put a stop to red-light runners.

The City Council will review a proposal tonight from the Brooksville Police Department to install cameras at some of the city's most dangerous intersections.

If council members approve, city officials will work with American Traffic Solutions, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company, to figure out which 10 intersections in Brooksville could use cameras.

"I think it's a fantastic program," said police Chief George Turner, who submitted the proposal to the council. "Anything you can do to reduce crashes and make the roadway safer is a good thing to do. And in these days of doing more with less, these cameras will be posted 24-7."

With Turner leading the way, Brooksville has become the latest municipality in the Tampa Bay area to push for red light cameras, or a "photographic traffic enforcement program," as it is referred to in the proposal.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a similar plan March 7. Clearwater, Port Richey and Temple Terrace, among others, have also considered pitches from ATS. And Turner noted that Florida cities such as Apopka and Gulf Breeze have already implemented similar programs with great success.

At a Hernando County Commission meeting this month, Commissioner Diane Rowden proposed having ATS come to a commission meeting to make a presentation. County Attorney Garth Coller threw up a caution signal, though. He told commissioners that he sometimes advises against following the lead of other municipalities because "sometimes political will goes against legality."

But ATS and other municipalities have, thus far, been able to work around a legal opinion issued in 2005 by the Florida Attorney General's Office that cautions against the use of red-light cameras by municipalities to issue traffic tickets.

To comply with the opinion, Turner said, cities such as Apopka and Gulf Breeze issue civil infractions, which are similar to parking tickets, and not traffic tickets.

In response, state Department of Transportation officers have warned other Florida municipalities that it will not allow the use of red-light cameras on state highways and roads. That could potentially affect Brooksville, which would almost certainly place cameras at certain intersections along State Road 50.

"Until a law is passed, we can't have them on state roadways," said Marian Scorza, a local spokeswoman with the DOT. "There's currently some bills before the Legislature talking about these red-light cameras. We'll do what the Legislature directs us to do. But for now, they're not allowed on our right of way."

Attorney George Angeliadis of the Hogan Law Firm, which represents Brooksville, said that shouldn't pose a problem. The city would simply have to place cameras on nearby property held by the city or private owners, Angeliadis said.

"We anticipate having to find properties that aren't in the state right of ways," Angeliadis said. "All in all, we think it's a great program."

The city would pay nothing to have the cameras installed, according to the proposal. Instead, ATS would install and care for the cameras and make its money by taking $40 from every $125 ticket issued to a violator.

Motorists who run red lights would be photographed by the cameras twice — as the vehicle approaches the light and then crossing the intersection. The cameras would also shoot a video, which would be available for the violator to watch online.

The system does allow for exceptions, said ATS spokesman Josh Weiss, noting that an ATS employee will review the video and photographs before sending them to an employee in the Brooksville Police Department. The Brooksville officer will ultimately decide whether a violation has occurred.

"There's several checks and balances in this system," Weiss said.

Though city officials acknowledge the system could generate some additional revenue for the city, they all point to improving safety on local roadways as the top priority. Turner and City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said information from ATS shows a tremendous reduction in the number of serious accidents.

Weiss boasts the system can reduce the number of red-light runners by as much as 60 percent. And Turner said in a memo to the council that Gulf Breeze has had a 25 percent reduction in traffic accidents.

"Anytime that you can reduce accidents and save lives," Norman-Vacha said, "you do it."

Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Brooksville weighs installing cameras to catch red-light runners 03/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 3:26pm]
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