Ban payouts from camera companies

Tennessee-based Blue Line solutions collected $786,740 as its percentage of the 15,097 handheld camera speeding tickets issued to people driving too fast through the city of Girard last year.

The city collected $1.18 million of the total $1.9 million that motorists coughed up last year.

Blue Line is the company with which Girard and some other communities contract to provide equipment and software used to operate speed cameras. Under Girard’s contract, the company receives 40 percent of the profits.

Between March 2018 and February 2019, Blue Line collected about $312,000 from speeders in Howland, and the township collected more than $665,000.

In Weathersfield, handheld speed cameras –from November 2015 to this past December — generated $2.8 million. Blue Line Solutions collected $322,266, according to information provided to the Tribune Chronicle.

In Liberty Township last year, $208,972 in revenue from 2,947 paid speed camera tickets. The operator of the program there, Optotraffic, received a commission of $92,735, records show.

The figures prove operating speed cameras is big business — not only for the communities where they are used, but also for private companies whose profits rise every time the speed camera shutter clicks.

That’s why it is extremely troubling that these private companies also have made it an accepted practice to pay stipends and police overtime costs to the communities where the cameras are used.

Blue Line paid Howland $1,934 per month to be used on police officer overtime pay to allow them to run the cameras and, in all likelihood, increase the revenue generated for this private, out-of-state company.

Under Weathersfield Township’s agreement with Blue Line, there is a fixed monthly customer credit of $1,980, plus an additional payment that fluctuates each month depending on the number of hours of overtime that are incurred by officers operating the camera, according to information requested by the Tribune Chronicle. According to figures provided to the Tribune Chronicle, that amount totaled $23,658 in 2018.

Optotraffic has agreed to pay Liberty Township a “good faith customer credit” of $2,700 per month, which the township is spending on general police department expenses.

Attorney Cherry Poteet, legal counsel for Liberty and Weathersfield, said the payments from the private speed camera companies are not directly linked to speed camera results.

Still, the added revenue certainly encourages local communities and officers to increase the amount of time they spend operating the traffic cameras, thereby pumping up revenue for the local governments — not to mention for the company that is located hundreds of miles out of state. How this can be described as anything other than policing for profit is incomprehensible.

Hubbard Township had briefly considered the possibility of allowing Blue Line solutions to pay its part-time officers $10 extra per hour while operating the speed cameras.

That township’s legal counsel, Mark Finamore, however, advised the township against the practice, and we agree with that decision.

While the Ohio legislature has stopped short of banning the use of speed cameras, we are glad to see legislators create new criteria as part of the state’s transportation bill.

Approved by lawmakers and signed recently by Gov. Mike DeWine, the changes that take effect in July will require local officials to adjust programs in their communities and could cost them state money that bolsters local governments.

The new law reduces the amount of local government funds paid by the state equal to the amount of camera fines collected — except if the fine is a result of a violation in a school zone.

In addition, citations now will be issued to a municipal or county court, where motorists can contest the ticket, instead of through administrative hearings, which is the practice now. The law also will prohibit police departments from using the cameras on interstates.

Other changes make the issuing authority pay for the court costs up front and absorb most of the costs unless the ticket was given in a school zone and will require fines from citations in school zones be used for school safety efforts in that community.

The local government funds withheld would be placed in a fund and used by the Ohio Department of Transportation on projects in the community’s transportation district.

All these are good ideas that should at least leave local government leaders thinking twice before adopting the use of speed cameras.

Now we hope lawmakers will consider legislating whether private companies that stand to profit from the policing efforts may offer payments back to the police agencies that are running their camera equipment.