Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

What we'll remember: red-light cameras in Brooksville are a windfall and a nuisance

BROOKSVILLE

THE RETURN of red-light cameras to Brooksville's city streets in 2012 wasn't welcomed by everyone.

To those who failed to halt at one of the 16 locations monitored 24 hours a day by the video surveillance devices, it meant a $158 citation.

But to others, who think there are too many red-light scofflaws in the city, the hefty financial penalty might be enough to make the offenders think twice.

One the cameras' major proponents is police Chief George Turner, who says the monitoring devices are clearly working and saving lives.

"The numbers show that," Turner said. "They are making people more aware of their driving habits. We've had very few complaints that they're not fair."

Since May, when the new cameras started going online, more than 10,280 citations have been issued to owners of offending vehicles. Not surprising is that most of the tickets have been issued for violations at the busy commercial intersection of Broad Street and Wiscon Road, where big-box Walmart and Lowe's stores are located.

The city's deal with Sensys American, the company that installs, monitors and maintains the red-light cameras, has produced a financial windfall. Both entities split the proceeds roughly 50-50 — each getting half of $75 per ticket after the state takes its $83 share.

According to figures released this week by the city, $1,050,192 in red-light revenues were collected between May and Dec. 14. The state received $495,842. Of the remaining amount, Sensys earned $266,834, and the city received $246,562.

The Brooksville City Council has yet to decide how it will use its red-light revenue. Suggestions have ranged from devoting the money to teen driver education to funding street and sidewalk repairs.

With the money pouring in, some elected officials remain unconvinced that safety was truly the main consideration behind installing the devices, as Turner and others have maintained. Council member Joe Bernardini, who has adamantly opposed the cameras since they were first introduced in 2008, said he wishes Sensys had been more forthcoming in its initial proposal about where it would locate the cameras.

"Look at where they put them," Bernardini said. "It seems to me that safety took a back seat to what would generate the most money. The city had really no choice in the matter."

Brooksville's first foray into red-light cameras came in 2008, and the cameras proved to be a lucrative revenue source, earning the city about $450,000 annually in the three years they were in operation. The cameras were removed in 2010 after the city was unable to reach an agreement with its vendor on how new state legislation would be applied to the program.

Currently regulated under the state's Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, cities must get approval from the state Department of Transportation before installing the cameras.

One of the more controversial aspects of the cameras has been the issuing of citations to drivers who fail to stop before making a right-hand turn. Although the state act allows for such rolling turns done "in a safe and prudent manner," a specific speed is not given. And the statute is in conflict with state traffic codes, which demand that a driver come to a complete stop before making a right-hand turn.

Turner said his department's camera guidelines allow for such turns made at 5 mph or less; speeds are checked by radar devices on the cameras.

"There are people who will argue it," Turner said. "But we tell them they're getting a break. If an officer sees them do it, it'll cost them a lot more than a $158 ticket."

Although the city has successfully collected nearly a quarter-million dollars from the cameras, they have not proven undefeatable. Earlier this year, Brooksville lawyer Peyton Hyslop was successful in challenging a citation on behalf of a client, Julio Carral, before Hernando County Judge Kurt Hitzemann.

Hyslop's argument was that photographs and videos taken by the cameras do not meet evidence standards because they cannot be authenticated.

The attorney has several other red-light camera cases awaiting a judge's decision.

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

Red-light cameras generate a windfall, but some decry them as greedy fundraisers.

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