Cameras to catch speeders switched on

Thirteen signs will warn motorists that the devices are in use.
GIRARD -- Some city motorists may soon learn that driving speeds are being monitored, even when no police officers are around.
City officials have flipped the "on" switch to a radar unit with an attached camera designed to catch those driving above the speed limit. The unit was installed Wednesday and will be used for the first time today.
Jerry Lambert, safety service director, said warnings will be issued through the weekend with actual citations being issued starting Monday. He said the city plans to hire a part-time hearing officer to handle contested citations.
City officials have also installed 13 signs telling motorists the radar device is being used. The small signs, which read "photo enforcement in place," are located at each entrance to the city.
Mayor James Melfi said calls to police about speeding throughout the city had become common. The traffic enforcement device, he said, should help reduce the number of speeders in the city, but will not be noticed by those obeying traffic laws.
"If you are driving the speed limit or a very safe speed, you have nothing to worry about," Melfi said. "Only those breaking the law have something to worry about."
How it's set up
Lambert said the device is designed to photograph the rear license plates of only those cars determined to have been speeding. He said no other part of passing vehicles will be photographed, and cars not traveling above the speed limit will not be photographed at all.
According to Lambert, the radar device is mobile and will be moved to various locations around the city as determined by police. He would not say where the unit will spend its first day, but said officials plan to concentrate on areas such as U.S. Route 422, Church Hill and Shannon roads and Liberty Street.
Melfi said the installation and operation of the radar device will not cost the city any money. He said the city will receive $60 of each $85 citation issued. Traffipax of Columbia, Md., the company contracted to install and operate the device, will receive the remaining $25.
Melfi, however, said installing the device is not meant to be a means of generating revenue.
"I really hope this doesn't generate [any money]," Melfi said. "I hope people will abide by the speed limits. Our goal here is to keep our streets safe."
Still need police
Police Chief Frank Bigowsky said the device will be an excellent deterrent to speeding, but ultimately he would like to replace officers lost through attrition in the last six years to do the job. He said the department has been reduced from 24 officers in 2000 to 14 now.
Lambert said if a tax levy on the ballot in November passes, those police officer positions may be filled, but that does not necessarily mean the end of the road for the radar device. He said officials would look at how the device can be used in conjunction with police officers, then determine if it should be kept in use.
Lambert said the city signed a one-year contract with Traffipax, but can be released from the contract early should it be determined that the device is no longer needed after November.
Council approved an ordinance in June allowing the use of video traffic enforcement in the city. A few councilmen objected, saying the city should wait to find out if state officials pass legislation that would ban cameras installed at intersections unless an officer was present to hand out tickets. The Ohio House of Representatives voted 73-24 on May 18 to approve the measure and forward it to the Senate.
Melfi said even if the use of the cameras is banned by the state, those ticketed in the meantime will still be responsible for the fines.

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