Red-light cameras continue to be divisive issue in St. Petersburg

Published Jan. 17, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — City leaders continue to clash over red-light cameras.

Talk of the 2-year-old program dominated a public safety committee meeting Thursday, with the only consensus being that more talk was needed.

Transportation director Joe Kubicki told council members Thursday that since the cameras were installed, red-light related and rear-end crashes have decreased. In those two years, the number of citations issued also have fallen, he said.

In that time, the 22 cameras placed at 10 intersections have generated a little more than $841,000 in revenue, he said.

In Kubicki's mind, that all equals success.

"We think this is an indication of a behavioral change," Kubicki said. "Fewer people are running red lights. Fewer people are getting caught. The program is working."

Kubicki said the city's data shows the majority of people cited live outside the city, and get only one citation. Violations decreased 28 percent from the first year to the second, he said, and crashes at those intersections fell almost 43 percent.

Frequent camera critic Matt Florell said he didn't agree with many of the city staff's conclusions. One of his biggest complaints involves the timing of yellow lights, which he says the city calculated incorrectly. The mistake, he said, means many drivers were cited unfairly.

Council member Wengay Newton said he wants the city to give refunds to those people. He, along with council members Charlie Gerdes, Darden Rice and Amy Foster, expressed frustration about the conflicting information they were hearing.

"Every time we get a report from our staff, it's glowing," said Newton, who has tried numerous times to kill the program. "The problems that were brought to our attention were always brought by a citizen."

Kubicki acknowledged that a complaint by Florell did result in the city ultimately adjusting the yellow signal time at a camera intersection. He also said the city was more involved with the details of how the cameras work than many other cities, which have led to statewide changes.

"I'm glad our micro-management has led to some change . . . but we are really micromanaging on this," said council member Jim Kennedy, who wants more red light cameras in the city.

Council members asked Kubicki and Florell to meet before the council holds another workshop in February so they can get some mutual clarity.

Florell said he has met with Kubicki in the past but felt the talks didn't go anywhere.

"Typically if there's something he can refute, he will," Florell said. "If there's something he can't, he'll ignore it."

One issue related to the cameras already has the attention of the new administration.

On Wednesday, Mayor Rick Kriseman quietly directed the Police Department to start requiring its officers to pay red-light violations whether they are on or off the job. Up until now, on-duty officers did not have to pay those tickets, even if they weren't headed to an emergency.

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Kriseman supports the cameras, but wrote in a memo that officers should be held to a "higher standard."