YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Some drivers call them sneaky but local police departments say their traffic cameras are making the streets safer and bringing in big money for their communities.
Over the past year, almost 21,000 drivers who passed through the Valley have later opened their mailboxes, only to find a speeding ticket. Each paid at least $100 for that ticket without ever speaking to a police officer or judge.
Departments in Youngstown, Girard, Liberty, and East Liverpool admitted they are making money from these tickets.
It’s a controversial issue that’s hotly debated.
“Obviously, you want to support the city and they have to find ways to generate revenue and I understand that aspect of it,” said ticket recipient and former business owner Ryan Kelly.
Business owners have mixed opinions, though. Some say it hasn’t hurt them at all.
“I don’t think it’s affected our business one bit. I mean, maybe just the negative publicity for the town,” said Randy Emery, owner of Black Horse Tavern in Girard.
Others say it has.
“I think the feedback that I got a lot was that it was deterring people from traveling those areas and they were finding alternate routes as opposed to slowing down,” Kelly said.
Police departments get 60 percent of each ticket’s total price, while 40 percent of the money goes back to the company that owns the cameras and sends you the bill. The company also pays for officers’ overtime.
Girard has made over $1 million in a year and a half from its traffic cameras, while Liberty has brought in nearly $75,000 in a year. Youngstown has made about $750,000 in just over two years and East Liverpool saw $300,000 in its eight months of use. All of those amounts are before money was taken out for the speed camera company.
East Liverpool’s first three days of using traffic camera generated more than 300 tickets. A majority were for 20 to 25 miles an hour over the speed limit.
In Youngstown and East Liverpool, the money is used to buy new equipment and cars for the police department. In Girard, city council decides what to do with it each month but most of the money has gone toward the police department and repaving roads. In Liberty, all of the money has gone to the township’s general fund to get it out of debt.
But while police say they’re making money, they’ve also seen safety on main roads in town improve.
“We’re able to slow the traffic down. We’ve had a 30 percent decrease in accidents and we have had no fatalities on 680 proper,” said Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees.
The year before the city started using cameras, there were four deaths on Interstate 680.
Lees said they don’t use their traffic cameras every day but still notice a change drivers’ awareness.
“The cameras and the psychological effect it has on the drivers, they think there’s this omnipresence out there,” he said. “It has slowed things down and it, again, has had a very positive effect.”
Youngstown and East Liverpool mainly stick to freeways and school zones for camera use, while Girard and Liberty target the main roads in town as well.
“We’re there different days, different times. Of course, you can’t run these cameras at night,” said Liberty Police Chief Rich Tisone.
The cameras give a 10- to 15-mile-per-hour buffer before a ticket is issued.
“What you must realize is that there’s a very generous margin of error built into that speed,” said Girard Mayor James Melfi.
The departments say people will try to fight the ticket in court but the picture of the license plate is proof. Eighty percent of the photos captured are expected to result in citations.
“They’ll say, ‘Well, I wasn’t driving.’ ‘Well, it’s registered to you, you’re responsible.’ If you weren’t driving, here’s the process — you have to identify who was driving and we’ll mail them the citation,” said East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane.
Some drivers have complained that officers will hide on overpasses or behind barriers to use the cameras. The police chiefs said their officers aren’t hiding but are just staying safe from the fast-moving traffic.
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