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Cameras up, revenue down

TAMPA — Over the past two years, Tampa officials have added more and more red-light cameras at major intersections, but ticket revenue from those cameras has fallen.

To police, this shows the cameras lead drivers to be safer.

"I can tell you that people are a lot more careful at these intersections," police Sgt. Carl Giguere told the City Council on Thursday. "I've seen it first-hand, especially with the signs posted out there. If they're coming up to a red-light intersection, they're going to be a little more careful and slow down, because they don't want to get a red-light ticket."

The city started the program in late 2011 with 24 red-light cameras, later increasing the number to 31.

In their first year of operation, those cameras shot video that led police to issue 62,697 citations. After expenses, the city's share of the revenue from the $158 fines was slightly less than $2 million.

In the program's second year, police increased the number of cameras first to 33 and eventually to 42. In all, they cover 18 different intersections.

But the number of citations issued dropped to 55,355 the second year. Net revenue to the city fell to $1.59 million.

Several council members expressed frustration that they wanted the money raised through the red-light cameras to be used specifically to add sidewalks and make the monitored intersections safer.

Instead, the revenue has been put in the city's general fund, where it helps pay for police and fire operations, parks and recreation, public works, economic development and central government operations.

The report made Thursday did not include any crash statistics, though police said in January that crashes at monitored intersections had dropped 29 percent the year after the technology went live.

Council member Lisa Montelione wanted more data on accidents, including rear-end crashes, at monitored intersections.

Researchers at the University of South Florida's College of Public Health reported in 2008 that studies from Virginia, North Carolina and Ontario showed red-light cameras drive up the numbers of collisions and injuries as motorists jam on the brakes at intersections.

Still, council members didn't dispute the idea that the cameras force drivers to change their behavior.

"It seems to me that the cameras must be working," council member Mike Suarez said. "If we're getting less citations, and we're actually more apt to catch people running red lights, then people may not be running more red lights."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

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