Place ban on traffic cameras

The little southwest Ohio town of Elmwood Place, population 2,000, has thrust the law enforcement camera issue back into the spotlight. Hopefully, it will end the practice statewide once and for all. This would relieve residents of and visitors to Youngstown and Warren, where using the money-grabbing devices has been the subject of on-again-off-again debate for many years.

During a mere two-week period in 2012, little Elmwood Place used its traffic camera to catch 20,000 speeders on one block. The $1.5 million in revenue, or $750 for every man, woman and child in the village, has rekindled the debate statewide over whether the devices are used for safety, or, as we have always contended, as an imposed tax increase.

The Ohio legislature banned traffic cameras in 2007, but then-Gov. Bob Taft vetoed the bill on the basis that it violated Ohio’s home rule.

Because of Elmwood Place, the House transportation committee has introduced a bipartisan bill to enact another ban. It should get to the full House soon, then on to the Senate and finally for Gov. John Kasich to sign.

The home rule argument has surfaced again as the Ohio Municipal League began lobbying against the bill, saying the traffic cameras are necessary for safety. That defies logic since, for the traffic cameras to pass Constitutional muster, jurisdictions must decriminalize traffic offenses.

As such, points are not assessed against driving records when cameras record traffic laws being broken. Careless drivers, especially wealthy ones, remain on the road longer.

Another problem is that cameras do not make traffic stops, police do. Cities that use cameras reduce the number of traffic patrols. Thus, dangerous drivers and in some cases wanted criminals are not apprehended before harming others or committing more crimes.

When one considers that last year about a dozen Ohio cities generated $16 million in revenue from law enforcement cameras that catch speeders and red-light runners, it’s even more apparent that revenue, not safety, is the motivating force. If safety really mattered, towns would delay green lights at intersections and beef up speed patrols.

The public opposes traffic cameras. In Girard, traffic cameras were eliminated after a flood of controversy and a legal challenge. In Warren, the debate halted when public outcry reached a crescendo, but some city leaders keep toying with the idea amid difficulty to balance the budget. In Youngstown, council approved traffic cameras in school zones.

When Ohio voters have had opportunities to weigh in at the ballot box, they have rejected law enforcement cameras on average nine out of 10 times.

Locally, the Mahoning Valley’s contingent in the General Assembly – Reps. Tom Letson, D-Warren, Sean O’Brien, D-Brookfield, Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown and State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard – should join the chorus to make Ohio the 13th state to ban the cameras.