The city of Springfield lost its appeal challenging new state restrictions on the use of red light cameras, but it will likely ask the Ohio Supreme Court to hear its case later this year.
Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said he will probably file an appeal within the next week.
State lawmakers approved regulations last year that require a police officer to be present at an intersection with the automated cameras in order to issue traffic tickets.
Springfield filed a lawsuit against the state last year challenging those restrictions, arguing it’s unconstitutional because it violates its ability to enforce local traffic laws. A Clark County judge disagreed last August and upheld the state law. The city appealed that decision.
The Second District Court of Appeals in Dayton also upheld that law late last week.
“The Ohio constitution clearly gives cities the right to make these kinds of decisions,” Strozdas said. “I regret I wasn’t able to persuade the Court of Appeals of that.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office was pleased the court agreed with their argument, Spokesman Dan Tierney said.
“We have a duty to defend the laws that are passed by the legislature and signed by the governor,” Tierney said. “They’re presumed to be constitutional until a court rules otherwise. It’s our duty as an office to defend the constitutionality of laws that are challenged in court.”
The court handled the case quickly, Strozdas said, allowing Springfield to be considered for the Ohio Supreme Court’s docket this year.
The city of Springfield could ask to join its appeal with a similar case from the city of Dayton, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to hear.
“We may ask to join in that appeal, consolidating them, essentially,” Strozdas said.
Akron and Toledo have filed similar appeals at their regional district court of appeals but have yet to receive a ruling.
Springfield suspended its red light camera program a year ago after the new law went into effect. The city has issued about 77,000 citations since the program started. It has 17 cameras at 10 intersections.
Springfield has collected about $3.4 million in fines from red light cameras since they were installed in 2006. It stands to lose about $250,000 annually if the cameras are shelved for good but city leaders have long argued the automated ticket program is about safety, not money.
In 2007, 90 crashes occurred at the intersections with red light cameras. In 2014, that number fell to 44 crashes, a 51 percent reduction.
Red light cameras have had a “measurable, significant impact in improving traffic” in Springfield, Strozdas said.
“I’m sure other cities saw the same effects,” he said.
The lawsuit is worth pursuing to the supreme court, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said, not because of the cameras themselves, but because of the principle.
“We have a right to decide how we’re going to police our community, unless we do something illegal,” Copeland said. “They’re trying to decide how we get to do our police work. I think it’s wrong.”
Later this month, the city commission will vote whether to renew its five-year contract with its photo enforcement provider, RedFlex Traffic Systems. The Arizona-based company has served in that role since 2006.
Last year a former RedFlex chief executive officer pleaded guilty to participating in an eight-year bribery and fraud scheme in Columbus and Cincinnati. The case didn’t included any mention of links to Springfield and city leaders here denied receiving bribes.
If approved, the city won’t be able to search for another photo enforcement provider until after the RedFlex contract expires, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. However, the city won’t reinstate its red light camera program until its current court case is finalized, he said.
“It just continues our current agreement from the last five-year renewal period,” he said. “It will only come into play if, in fact, we reinstate the program.”
The red-light program isn’t fair and is an invasion of privacy, Springfield resident Cheryl Cox said. She once got a ticket on Troy Road.
“All it is is government wanting more money … Every time it’s something different to pull more money out of people’s pockets,” Cox said. “And it’s hard right now because of the job situation and people living on fixed incomes.”
Springfield resident Ronnie Moss sees it differently. He was recently hit while riding his bicycle by a man who ran a red light on Limestone Street, he said. Moss was injured but thankful to have survived.
“I could’ve gotten killed,” he said.
If the red light cameras were functional, Moss said it may have kept the man from speeding through the intersection.
“When that light’s yellow, he’s going to stop,” Moss said. “There are lives that are saved by that camera.”
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of the red light cameras since the program began, including stories digging into the money generated by them, effect on crashes and lawsuits filed challenging new restrictions on their use.
By the numbers
44: Crashes at red light camera intersections in 2014, down from 90 in 2007
77,112: Red light camera citations issued since the program began
$3.4 million:Money Springfield has collected from its red light camera program since it began