Sunday, December 18, 2016
By Sarah Lehr
The Liberty Township and Girard city police departments continue to issue speed-camera citations, provoking some complaints from drivers.
Both local governments entered into contracts this summer for the handheld cameras, which must be operated by a police officer due to a Ohio law which effectively prohibited unmanned traffic cameras. The police officer, however, does not need to pull someone over in order to issue a citation which arrives later in the mail.
Since citations from the camera are civil, they do not count against a speeder’s driving record, but do carry fines. Drivers have the option to appeal the citations before a hearings administrator.
Since its warning period ended in August, Liberty Township has issued 678 citations, of which 404 have been paid, according to the most recently available figures.
Under its contract with Optotraffic of Lanham, Md., the township receives 65 percent of fine revenue. Optotraffic also mails out the citations on the township’s behalf and provides the camera and signs informing drivers of the camera’s presences. Those signs are required under state law.
So far, Liberty has collected $40,850 from the citations, meaning that Optotraffic has collected approximately $21,996.
The city of Girard has a similar contract with Blue Line Solutions of Athens, Tenn., in which the city receives 60 percent of fine revenue and Blue Line Solutions receives 30 percent.
Girard did not provide figures of citations issued or money collected, despite repeated requests from The Vindicator.
Citations in Girard and Liberty include a $100 flat fee, though there are additional charges for late payments and violations such as speeding in a construction zone.
Girard is focusing its camera use on Interstate 80 and U.S. Route 422.
Dave Jordan, a retired firefighter who lives in Ashtabula County, received a $150 citation in the mail several weeks after driving off state Route 11 onto I-80 in Girard.
Jordan said his grandson has also received several citations from Girard.
“If I’m speeding, I’m speeding. Pull me over, I deserve it. But, don’t hide. I call ’em little bridge trolls,” he said referring to officers who use the camera from bridges.
Jordan said he used to frequent Jib Jab hot dog shop on Route 422, but now avoids Girard due to the speed camera.
“These little villages turn those things into big-time money-makers,” he said. “I hate to see so much of that money go to Tennessee.”
Scott Godfrey of Austintown also received a $150 citation after driving to work on I-80 in Girard. The citation informed Godfrey that had been driving 69 miles per hour in a 55 mph construction zone. Godfrey appealed the citation via a hearings process that he described as frustrating.
“The place was packed,” Godfrey said. “I had prepared a defense, and it wasn’t what I expected. They ran people through like a grocery store express lane.”
The hearings administrator did reduce Godfrey’s fine to $100. Godfrey, however, was not pleased because he had argued that he was approaching a construction zone from a 70 mph zone, but was not yet in the construction zone when the camera snapped a photo. Godfrey said he should not have received any fine because he felt he was not speeding at the time.
“I think it’s basically lazy police work,” Godfrey said of the cameras. “To me, it’s like they just throw a net out there and grab as many people as they can.”
Liberty Township is using its camera on state Route 11, state Route 193, state Route 304 and a Shady Road school zone.
Liberty Chief Richard Tisone has said the township is hoping for a change in state law, so as to allow his department to expand its camera enforcement to I-80 within the township. The township’s law director has informed officials that Ohio law prohibits township police officers in from enforcing traffic laws on interstate highways.
Hubbard Township briefly pursued its own I-80 speed camera program in 2015, but then suspended the program due to concerns about its legality under Ohio law.
Generally, Ohio townships have less governing authority as compared to cities or villages, which are incorporated as municipalities.
The city of Youngstown adopted a handheld speed camera program in 2015.