TAMPA — Starting today, drivers who run red lights at 14 of Tampa's busiest intersections can count on getting a $158 citation in the mail.
But maybe not right away.
That's because it takes a while for the company that put up the surveillance cameras to review the video, and then for a Tampa police officer to look at each potential violation and decide whether to issue the ticket.
The city turned its cameras on for a one-month warning period on Oct. 1, and officers were working to try to get all of the warnings out by midnight Monday. By that evening, the city had mailed a total of 6,104 warnings.
"We anticipate we'll have a one-week turn-around time in the future," police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said in an e-mail. "Since it is a new process, we are meticulously going through each video."
That means the registered owner of any vehicle photographed running a red light in October will still get a warning, even if it doesn't go out until November.
But those nabbed after midnight Monday will get the fine, with $75 going to the city and $83 to the state. The cameras are expected to generate $2 million in fines for the city next year.
In addition to snapping still photos, the cameras also shoot 12 seconds of video for each suspected violation. Citations will display the number of seconds that the light had been red and the speed when the driver ran the light.
Once the fines go into effect, police expect to see two things.
First, the number of violations recorded should drop significantly as drivers become aware that the cameras are watching, just as they slow down when they see an officer parked on the side of the road.
That's a pattern — lots of warnings, followed by fewer citations — seen in other cities with red-light cameras, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
Second, officials look for Tampa streets to become safer. City officials said they chose the locations for the cameras based on traffic crash data and where they are most likely to reduce collisions.
"Our hope is that we send out all these warnings and that changes the driving patterns and makes people realize that you can't get away with running a red light and therefore they stop doing it and the roads become safer," McElroy said. "It would be ideal if we never had to write a citation and the warnings did a trick."
For the past three years, more than half of Hillsborough County's red-light crashes took place inside Tampa. Last year alone, Tampa saw 371 of the 642 such crashes countywide.
But not everyone agrees on the benefits.
Researchers at the University of South Florida's College of Public Health reported in 2008 that studies from Virginia, North Carolina and Ontario showed that red-light cameras drive up the number of crashes and injuries as drivers brake abruptly at monitored intersections.
That's not what police say they've found talking to other cities. Elsewhere, communities say the cameras lead motorists to drive more carefully, and not only at the monitored intersections.
In the worst cases, virtually any degree of added care would be welcome by police. In video shot one night recently, a driver sped at 62 mph through a light that had been red for 58 seconds.
"They didn't even bother to look to see if there were other cars coming," said Sgt. Carl Giguere, who supervises Tampa's traffic squad. "Just went straight through."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.