Maintain ODOT order to remove camera signs

We are glad to see the Ohio Department of Transportation is taking an interest in how local communities are using state highways to police for profit.

Even though ODOT’s directive ordering local communities like Girard, Howland and Youngstown to remove their traffic camera warning signs from state highways by last week has been put on hold in order to allow time for further review, the state’s ODOT director said no new signs or cameras will be granted installation permission during the review period.

We urge the state to maintain the initial order to ban the signs (along with camera usage on the highways). And we urge local communities to follow the lead set last week by Howland Township and choose to put the handheld speed cameras “on a shelf” until the issue is settled. In fact, we urge all local communities using the cameras as a form of revenue generation, i.e. money grab without voter input, to halt the practice immediately and indefinitely.

Last month, Jerry Wray, the director of ODOT, sent notices to local government leadership in Hubbard Township, Howland, Girard, Liberty, Weathersfield and Youngstown, ordering them all to remove the signs from state property. Because Ohio Revised Code states these ticketing cameras cannot be utilized in a community unless it first posts signs on all highways in the state highway system that are in the community, ODOT’s directive essentially makes it impossible to legally operate the cameras in these communities.

Howland Township Administrator Darlene St. George’s immediate response was logical and sensible. That community planned to end the township’s handheld traffic camera ticket program last week in light of ODOT’s directive. St. George told us the township still intends to shelve the program for now while she has the township’s law director call ODOT’s attorneys to further discuss the issue.

“We are just going to put our cameras on the shelf until we see how this plays out,” St. George said.

Good! Let’s hope they keep them there.

Girard Mayor James Melfi’s response, however, was just the opposite of logical and sensible.

He said last week that Girard’s street department had not taken down the signs and, in fact, did not plan to, despite ODOT’s directive.

He, of course, also maintains that his city will continue to operate its handheld camera ticketing program based on a legal opinion indicating that the city has the right to post signs and enforce the law on any roadway within municipal limits, despite ODOT’s assertion they alone can permit signs.

This is the point where we will return to the argument we have consistently made that policing for profit sends area law enforcement down a slippery slope that is absolutely wrong.

Law enforcement exists to protect and serve — not for the purpose of generating profit for local communities.

Of course, many community leaders and law enforcement officials have argued for years now that using handheld speed cameras does improve public safety. Certainly, we never believed for one moment that any constituent would be fooled by that statement, but now there is proof.

A recent Case Western Reserve University analysis determined that traffic cameras installed at intersections to monitor red light violations, for example, do not reduce the number of accidents or injuries — and in fact, they may even increase them. The analysis found that traffic cameras shift traffic patterns and make more drivers tend to brake harder and more abruptly. The study reviewed thousands of collisions over a 12-year span with data provided by the Texas Department of Transportation.

While no Trumbull County community utilizes red light cameras, we would argue speed cameras may have the same effect.

As ODOT reviews its policy on erecting traffic camera signs on state highways, we urge the leaders of this state agency to hold their ground on the original directive issued last month.

Further, we urge voters to remember this issue when they head to the polls. They should vote against any incumbent who has defiantly backed the money grab of handheld traffic cameras without ever giving constituents a choice.