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Ruling on red light cameras gets cities scrambling to review practices

The use of cameras to nab red-light runners in some communities might be in legal jeopardy.

In a case that could have ramifications for counties and cities statewide, a Miami-Dade County judge this week ruled that Aventura overstepped state law when it used cameras to fine red-light runners.

Using the cameras without having a police officer at the scene when the violations occur is invalid, Circuit Court Judge Jerald Bagley ruled.

Bagley's decision sent Hillsborough County, Temple Terrace and other communities with red-light cameras scrambling to review their procedures.

In all, 26 Florida cities use the technology. Brooksville, Port Richey and Kenneth City have programs in place. Tampa and St. Petersburg are considering the cameras, but officials haven't finalized the plans.

"From a practical standpoint, is this something we're concerned about? Sure," Temple Terrace attorney Mark Connolly said. "City and county attorneys with red-light cameras are all reviewing this decision."

Red-light cameras might be an annoyance for drivers, but governments like them because they reduce serious crashes and generate cash through fines that typically start at $100.

Temple Terrace has collected more than $1.5 million in fines since October 2008 and is considering expanding its camera program from two to five intersections.

Hillsborough County expects to make $2.4 million a year from its 10 cameras, the last of which is being installed this week at State Road 60 and Grand Regency Boulevard near Westfield Brandon mall.

Attorneys and city leaders say the Aventura case doesn't necessarily apply to other Florida jurisdictions and they won't know the exact issues surrounding Bagley's decision until his written opinion is handed down in the next couple of weeks.

But the case could pose difficulties for cities and counties outside Miami-Dade if the ruling is upheld on appeal. Until then, officials in Temple Terrace and Hillsborough County say their red-light programs will continue.

"I've looked at it, and it doesn't affect us at all. It's a local ruling," Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Darrin Barlow said. "Until something happens here, it doesn't affect us."

Temple Terrace said its program is continuing. Chip Fletcher, an attorney for Tampa, said there's no reason for the city to suspend its plans.

The camera issue could soon be made moot, though.

A bill circulating in the state Legislature would allow cities and counties to use red-light cameras and provide guidelines for their usage and collection of fines.

The cameras might be tiresome for motorists, but they've amassed some support.

A poll of 800 Florida motorists released this week indicates that most drivers favor the technology.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll of drivers found that 72 percent supported the use of cameras in their communities and more than 60 percent would back a state law regulating their usage in cities and counties.

Ruling on red light cameras gets cities scrambling to review practices 02/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:44am]
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