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Strong support for red light cameras in Hillsborough, Pinellas

Red light cameras were removed in Brooksville in August after the City Council decided to end the program.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Red light cameras were removed in Brooksville in August after the City Council decided to end the program.

Billy Faedo was stopped at a Tampa intersection on Christmas Eve when his light turned green. He prepared to turn left when a scooter flew past the front-end of his car.

The helmet-less rider had just run a red light.

"I could have just punched it, and this guy would have been on my hood," said Faedo, 63. "I could have messed up his Christmas, and he could have messed up my Christmas."

That's why Faedo said he gives the green light to red light cameras. A lot of people in Tampa Bay feel the same way.

A recent St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 telephone poll showed robust support — 64 percent — for using surveillance cameras to catch and ticket red light runners.

The poll surveyed 600 residents of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The poll reflected the rapid political and public approval red light cameras have gained in both counties.

In Hillsborough, where the county and the city of Temple Terrace already use cameras, 67 percent of residents support the devices. The city of Tampa is now taking bids for its own system. (The poll's margin of error in each county was 5.7 points.)

Support was 61 percent in Pinellas, where five cities have approved red light cameras. This month, Clearwater and Oldsmar voted to join Kenneth City, South Pasadena and St. Petersburg. In Pasco, Port Richey also recently voted to install the cameras.

Proponents say red light cameras are a valuable safety tool aimed at preventing the kind of dangerous broad-side crashes that can occur when a vehicle runs a red light. Signs warn drivers about the cameras before they cross an intersection.

"It's behavior modification," said Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Greg Brown. "It changes drivers' habits, and it's able to cover an intersection 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Sheriff's Office began handing out $158 citations in December 2009, and by November had issued 24,000. The agency thinks the cameras have reduced crashes but has yet to release numbers showing that.

Brown said the cameras are also more efficient than having deputies stake out unsafe intersections. Faedo, a Tampa resident and retired investigator with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, said that's also why he favors them.

"It can free up some law enforcement officers to do other street policing," he said.

Jacquelyn Keup, 72, a semiretired broadcaster in Clearwater, said the cameras sound like a good solution to a problem.

"I see too many people going through yellow lights, and they're not even supposed to be doing that," she said. "I think it will stop cars from racing through."

But opponents say the cameras are a moneymaker for municipalities pushed by private companies that market the cameras. They point to studies that show red light cameras don't significantly reduce crashes or save lives, and in some cases lead to more accidents — like rear-end crashes caused by drivers who slam on the brakes at a light.

"There's a lot of abuse of red light camera systems being used as revenue generators," said Matt Florell, 35, the software company president who started stpetecameras.org to advocate against that city's decision to install the cameras.

"There's a lot of evidence to show there are more effective ways of dealing with red light runners than making people more nervous."

He also said that polls showing support for the cameras can be flawed. He cited Houston, where polls showed support for red light cameras. But 53 percent voted against the measure in November.

After several stops and starts, the Brooksville City Council in Hernando County voted in August to end a two-year red light camera program.

They did so despite police Chief George Turner's assertion that the cameras had made four intersections safer.

Pierre Desjardins, the 54-year-old owner of the Hill House Bed and Breakfast, helped lead the charge against Brooksville's cameras. The town is safer without the cameras, he said. He also said statistics showed the cameras mostly caught tourists.

"If 97 percent of the tickets were going to out-of-towners," he said, "then there is no behavior modification going on.''

George Miller, 32, a married father of one in Clearwater, is also against the cameras. They're just too invasive, he said.

"I think if we allow the cameras there, then the next thing you know there's going to be cameras on every other corner," he said. "I think it's a violation of privacy."

About the poll

The St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 sponsored a phone poll of 600 randomly selected adults in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The poll was conducted Dec. 8-14 and included 300 people in each county. The margin of error was 4 percentage points overall but increased to 5.7 for individual county responses. The poll was conducted by American Directions Group, a national polling firm based in Washington, D.C. with offices in Lakeland.

Strong support for red light cameras in Hillsborough, Pinellas 12/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2011 5:10pm]

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