An Ohio judge has slapped town leaders in the Village of Elmwood Place, a Cincinnati suburb, with a contempt charge and has ordered the county sheriff’s office to dismantle and impound the traffic monitoring cameras the town had been using to ticket speeders.
Elmwood Place must also pay for storage fees incurred by the impoundment, and it must refund money it has collected from alleged speeders “caught” by the cameras since they were installed in September.
Judge Robert Ruehlman made the ruling last week at a contempt hearing in which he found both the town and the camera company — Maryland-based Optotraffic — in violation of an injunction in place since March. That’s when Ruehlman found the cameras UnConstitutional and barred the town from operating the cameras and collecting any more fees from motorists.
Under its service contract, the town was collecting 60 percent of revenues from the camera-generated tickets, with Optotraffic taking the rest. But the judge slammed both parties after learning the town had turned the cameras back on, ostensibly only to collect traffic data, and had continued to accept an additional $48,000 in fines from motorists who had come in to pay off outstanding tickets, at $105 a pop, after the date of the original injunction.
Drivers paid their fines through Optotraffic, and town officials said refunds will have to be issued from data the company maintains, since no one in Elmwood Place has any record of who received a ticket. Overall, the town and contractor have collected more than $1.7 million in camera-based ticket fines since the devices were installed.
Ruehlman called the ticketing program “a scam that the motorists can’t win.”
“The entire case against the motorist is stacked because the speed monitoring device is calibrated and controlled by Optotraffic,” he wrote.
The Ohio House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a ban on red light and speeding camera enforcement last Wednesday, sending the legislation to the State Senate for approval. If passed, only mobile camera enforcement within school zones, during restricted hours, would be permitted.
The Columbus Dispatch lamented the House vote in an editorial, calling the ban “reckless lawmaking” that places individual freedom over public safety.
[T]he Ohio House on Wednesday threw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s now up to the Senate to block House Bill 69, a wholesale ban of an important law-enforcement tool… Sure, many drivers hate these cameras. But as a result, most change their driving behavior for the better. For lawmakers to cave to populist sentiment by helping people skirt safety laws is bad policy.
An untold number of Ohioans have been spared accidents and are still around to complain about their tickets. The Senate should recognize that it is being asked to make roads less safe and reject this bill.
A leading Senate Republican said he favors banning the cameras, but can’t predict how the bill will fare in the Senate.