I-80 speed cam to remain off-limits for Liberty under new law
By Sarah Lehr
Township officials had hoped that new Ohio legislation would allow Liberty officers to expand speed camera enforcement to Interstate 80 within the township.
Under a law that will take effect April 6, however, I-80 will remain off limits.
The township debuted a handheld speed camera last summer in partnership with Optotraffic of Landham, Md. The private company provides the camera, mails citations and collects 35 percent of fine revenue.
Township officials have said civil citations from the camera will discourage speeding and improve safety. Additionally, the township’s 65-percent share of fine revenue will benefit the general and police funds, which are running deficits.
From implementation in August 2016 to the start of December 2016, the township raised more than $40,000 from the camera, said police Chief Richard Tisone.
Liberty police have been focusing their camera use on state Route 11, state Route 304, state Route 193 and a Shady Road school zone.
Law Director Mark Finamore has advised the police department it cannot use the camera on I-80.
Finamore cited Ohio law restricting police serving small townships from enforcing traffic violations on national and interstate highways.
That distinction will change some April 6 when Ohio House Bill 378 takes effect. That new law will expand the authority of officers serving townships with populations under 50,000 people. Those officers will be able to make traffic arrests on national highways that are not part of the interstate system,
An earlier version of the bill would have allowed officers from small townships to make traffic arrests on interstate highways as well.
If that provision had passed, Liberty would have started using its camera on I-80, Tisone said.
Lawmakers, however, rescinded the interstate provision at the request of the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association.
Bob Cornwell, Buckeye Sheriff’s Association executive director, described the final version of the bill as an acceptable compromise. Cornwell said the association objected to the earlier draft because of concern township officers could place themselves in “legal jeopardy” if those officers ended up tailing a suspect in and out of township boundaries while attempting to pull someone over.
The representatives who sponsored HB 378 said it would enable township officers to use the highway system toward curtailing offenses such as drunken driving and human trafficking.
Hubbard Township briefly operated its own speed camera on I-80 before pulling the program due to concerns about its legality. Finamore is the law director for both townships.
Weathersfield Law Director Cherry Poteet, however, takes a different view. Weathersfield police officers have been operating a speed camera since December 2015, and officers do use the camera on I-80 within township limits.
Poteet said her interpretation derived from the definition of an “arrest,” as established by Ohio law. A citation from the camera does not count as a traffic “arrest,” she said.
Because of a 2014 Ohio law that effectively prohibited unmanned traffic cameras, speed cameras such as those used in Liberty and Weathersfield must be operated by a uniformed officer. That officer, however, has discretion about whether to pull over a suspected speeder.
After being nabbed by the camera, a driver will receive a civil citation in the mail. The driver can appeal the fine before a hearing administrator.
The cities of Youngstown and Girard also have been operating speed cameras, including on I-80. Under Ohio law, cities generally have more authority than townships.