- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
The city of Springfield has no immediate plans to resume its red light camera program, despite Dayton’s decision to turn its cameras back on next month after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a law restricting the cameras’ use was unconstitutional earlier this year.
Last week Dayton announced it will reactivate its cameras without officers present as soon as Sunday. Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said city commissioners here haven’t discussed resuming Springfield’s program at this point.
“We’ve had no conversation at all that I’ve been a part of,” Copeland said. “We’re not ready to move on that at all. I assume we need to make a decision some time but we haven’t talked about that yet.”
Springfield has 17 cameras at 10 intersections that were turned off in 2015 once a new state law went into effect requiring a police officer to be present at the time of the violation. Those regulations have led to multiple lawsuits from cities across Ohio, including one filed by the city of Springfield, that alleged the new rules violate local home-rule authority.
The program has been suspended until city commissioners have a complete understanding of the updated law, Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said.
“It’s kind of unfair to our citizens to be caught in this back-and-forth battle between the cities and the state,” he said. “(The city) is taking a timeout until we can get a ruling about what the rules are.”
Springfield had used red light cameras for nearly a decade — the city issued about 77,000 citations between 2006 and 2015, collecting about $3.4 million in fines — when it shut them off because of the new law. Under the state law, officials in Springfield estimated they would have had to hire at least 42 new officers to run its program.
Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court declared a law restricting red light cameras unconstitutional, impacting 8 million drivers statewide.
The court ruled that the state law restricting the use of speed and red light cameras hampered cities’ home-rule authority, which allows municipalities to pass laws to govern themselves. The city of Dayton filed the case and Springfield’s appeal was included in that case, said Edward Miller, the supreme court’s public information director.
Dayton challenged three parts of the state’s law. That included language that a police officer be posted at each operating camera, that cities conduct a three-year traffic study before deploying a camera and, that speeders be given leeway of 6 miles per hour over the limit in a school zone and 10 miles over elsewhere.
Springfield’s arguments against the law were rejected by a Clark County judge in 2015 and the city later lost an appeal. The city then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. That case was put on hold pending the outcome of the Dayton lawsuit.
City leaders believes the entire law should be struck down, Strozdas said, not just certain portions of it.
“We’re arguing it’s all unconstitutional and they can’t make us do any of these things,” Strozdas said.
Strozdas is surprised the Supreme Court hasn’t done anything with Springfield’s case after its ruling on the Dayton lawsuit, he said. It’s possible the court could move forward or decide not to hear Springfield’s case at all, Strozdas said.
In 2007, Springfield intersections with red light cameras saw 90 accidents. That number decreased to 44 in 2014 — a 51 percent decrease. A year later, the cameras were turned off due to the rule changes.
Overall traffic crashes increased 8 percent between 2014 and 2016 and traffic crashes at monitored intersections increased 13 percent from 44 in 2014 to 50 in 2016, according to the Springfield Police Division.
The program was effective while it was operational, Copeland said.
“The evidence is clear that the way we applied it was both clear and did reduce accidents,” Copeland said. “It’s something we have to look at seriously, but I haven’t really thought about it much at this point.”