Ohio high court ruling on speed cameras correct
We are pleased to see the Ohio Supreme Court taking a position that goes against the use of traffic cameras — or at least against using the cameras to generate significant additional revenue.
The court last month determined a law that reduces state funding to municipalities that use speed camera enforcement is constitutional.
In doing so, the high court reversed an appellate court’s judgment in a case filed by the Cleveland-area municipalities of East Cleveland and Newburgh Heights. They had challenged the constitutionality of an Ohio law that allows the state to reduce its local government fund distributions to municipalities that use automated traffic cameras.
The 2019 law allows the state to reduce local government allocations by the same amount that communities collect in fines from the use of automated traffic cameras. However, the two Cuyahoga County municipalities claimed the law violates home rule protections granted to them under the Ohio Constitution.
The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed. It determined Ohio’s constitution, in fact, does not require Ohio’s General Assembly to give municipalities a set amount of funds — or any funds at all — and Ohio communities have no specific rights to local government money. At the end of the day, Ohio’s Legislature has the authority to establish priorities and decide how much funding to give to local cities, the court decision says.
It also ruled the funding law does not violate home rule authority because it does not prohibit municipalities from enforcing their traffic laws with cameras, if they so choose.
Youngstown’s police department, for instance, had used hand-held speed cameras almost exclusively on Interstate 680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road, from August 2015 until November 2019. Girard, Weathersfield and Liberty also use speed camera enforcement.
Youngstown discontinued the program after the state Legislature passed the bill reducing a municipality’s local government fund money by the amount it received from the hand-held cameras for speeding and going through red lights.
That decision came based on the law passed in Columbus by lawmakers hoping to discourage the police practice, which generates vast amounts of money.
Youngstown received about $2.2 million in speed-camera money in 2019, compared to about $1.7 in local government funds. The city ended the program because the speed-camera money was exclusively for police equipment purchases and to pay for officers on that duty, who did so on overtime at time-and-a-half. Local government fund money instead goes into the city’s general fund.
In the court’s decision, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote: “The spending setoff may disincentivize municipalities from adopting or continuing to use traffic cameras, but it does not forbid what municipal law permits any more than the creation of a financial incentive to adopt the use of traffic cameras would require a municipality to do what its own laws proscribe.”
This newspaper consistently has argued the practice is little more than policing for profit and goes against the true reason for law enforcement — to serve and protect.
Our Legislature and now the court, in essence, have agreed. Communities have the option of whether to continue use of the cameras, but the law and the court ruling does what it can to balance the revenue with an equal loss in local government funds.
It should be noted that under the 2019 law, however, an exemption exists in the local government funds deduction for camera use in a school zone. Money collected from school-zone speeders may be used only for school safety resources.
We disagree, and maintain our argument that revenue generated from speed cameras used everywhere — including in school zones — should be subtracted from local government funds.
Youngstown recently adopted a plan to place unmanned speed cameras in school zones. Other communities also have considered the school-zone speed cameras. In Youngstown, contractor Blue Line Solutions of Tennessee will receive 35 percent of the fines generated by local people driving at least 11 mph over the speed limit in school zones.
It’s true that no one should speed in school zones. Still, we believe officers patrolling school zones would be a much more effective method of slowing speeders and make an immediate safety impact rather than generating funds from unsuspecting motorists caught speeding on camera. Those speeders won’t slow down until the ticket arrives in the mail some two weeks later. How does that help improve safety for our students?
At the end of the day, policing for profit is wrong, and the Supreme Court was right to maintain their position.