Slam brakes on speed cameras for Lordstown

Lordstown Village leaders should not pass go, should not collect $200 and should not proceed further toward authorizing speed cameras in their community.

Lordstown is the latest example of communities in the Mahoning Valley, the state and the nation seeking to raise revenue for their operations through the misguided use of automated speed enforcement devices.

Village police Chief Brent Milhoan said the department would like to establish its own impound lot to hold vehicles seized in traffic stops to generate additional revenue for the department to deal with the rising costs of police equipment. He said money to pay for and maintain an impound lot could come from speed cameras.

His idea has gained some initial traction. Mayor Jackie Woodward said last week speed cameras would be beneficial in school zones. Councilman Howard Sheely suggested that in addition to school zones, speed cameras could be placed in heavy traffic areas such as Bailey Road and state Route 45.

The council’s safety committee has taken up the proposal for consideration. We urge committee members to slam the brakes on it fully and speedily.

This newspaper has long argued against the use of speed cameras by Mahoning Valley law enforcement agencies. Speeding, after all, should be a public-safety issue, not an aggressive revenue-generating source for local communities.

In Lordstown, initial discussions make no bones about motive: Money is needed to bolster police department operations, and for creation of an impound lot. Photo enforcement of speed levels could provide a relatively robust and continuous cash cow toward those desired outcomes.

Now, let us be clear. We do not endorse driving unsafely or speeding on interstates, community roads and school zones. We do believe, however, better ways can be found for slowing motorists. Unstaffed speed cameras that have the potential of extracting millions of dollars from our local economy and sending it to government coffers is not the answer.

What’s more, fairness and due process have risen as bumps in the road in communities where speed cameras have been installed.

For one, when the vehicle owner — sometimes not the alleged speeder in that vehicle — receives the ticket in the mail sometimes weeks later, he or she has no choice but to trust that the speed was recorded accurately and that the camera had been calibrated correctly before the speed was recorded.

Most often, the ticket recipient has no clear and convenient path for due process in challenging the charge and fines. Take Youngstown, for example.

That city contracted with Blue Line Solutions in Tennessee last year to zap speeders in school zones throughout the district. Youngstown, however, did not turn the cameras back on at the delayed start of the 2023-24 school year because of an unresolved dispute between its municipal court and city administration about how to handle legitimate appeals of citations. They remained off throughout the academic year as no clear resolution to that dispute took shape.

Lordstown officials also need to consider the long-term impact on its reputation as the epicenter of economic development in the Mahoning Valley.

We therefore urge council’s safety committee members to explore other options to build an impound lot and beef up police department operations. Such measures could include examining more dollars transferred to the police department from the local government’s general fund, consideration of a small increase in the village income tax expressly for strengthening police department operations or seeking out grant funding.

Proponents of the cameras argue if you don’t speed, you have nothing to worry about. But this is still America, where citizens are innocent until proven guilty and have the right to face and challenge their accusers.

On a broader scope, it is our hope that state legislators will continue to work on abolishing use of such cameras or at least regulating them more closely.

Toward that end, Ohio Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, introduced House Bill 416 earlier this year. If enacted, it would require speed camera operators to pay a $5,000 monthly fee for their speed cameras to be properly calibrated by the Department of Public Safety among other restrictions.

In a recent press release, Patton stated, “It is important these systems are operating in good faith. By establishing standards and best practices, we can ensure that the machines are accurate, and Ohioans aren’t being taken for a ride.”

We couldn’t agree more.


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