Local officials and the companies that sell and operate them love red light cameras, which are not called cameras in the law. Nearly everyone else, not so much.
Why? Is Florida a hotbed of red light runners crashing into others? If you look at our traffic crash data over the past several years, you'll see that is not the case.
My background is law enforcement. I worked for two years as a Florida deputy sheriff and the remaining 23 years of my 25-year career with the Florida Highway Patrol, where I worked as a trooper, traffic homicide investigator, and squad sergeant, and retired as an investigations lieutenant. I currently operate a small lobbying firm in Tallahassee that specializes ...view middle of the document...
Or you may have read that the Hallandale Beach mayor claims a huge number of “violations.”
However, when crash reports, Department of Transportation crash data, and city records were reviewed, a different picture emerges.
In St. Petersburg, I asked for the data used to make the 60 percent reduction claim. I received 38 crash reports from a three-year period. Each involved red light running as the cause. When I broke them down by year, I found the first year had 6, the next one had 12, and the third one had 10. After the use of the automated for-profit devices, the number remained at 10. This caused the average to increase from 9.3 to 10, a 7 percent increase.
In Palatka, I reviewed DOT crash data for intersection crashes; it also included unincorporated areas. I learned the main causes of crashes were failure to yield and careless driving -- something I already knew after 25 years of Florida law enforcement experience. As with crashes throughout Florida, red light running was well down the list.
In Hallandale Beach, using the city's own records (available online), I found the mayor's claim of 321 violations was actually 172. I also determined that in 2011 the city spent more on automated for-profit enforcement than it took in, for a net loss to the taxpayer.
My study of several cities throughout Florida showed that automated for-profit law enforcement has failed to make any significant reduction in crashes. Is that not the sole reason to use it? Nearly without exception, local officials in Florida claim they use automated for-profit law enforcement for safety, not revenue. Safety is not measured in the number of "violations," which inevitably include far more of the less hazardous right turns than the very hazardous straight-through violations.
(Unlike any city using automated for-profit law enforcement, I publish the crash data I used to perform an analysis. If you'd like to examine my data, Google the term "Red light camera reference page.")
My conclusions are supported by really good evidence. All one need do is go to YouTube and you can find crash after crash all caught on camera – red light camera. If the devices worked, there would eventually be no crashes to capture.
What happens when we turn law enforcement into a for-profit operation?
Most would compare it to ticket quotas, which are illegal in Florida. The thought behind this law was that officers would write questionable tickets to increase revenue, so the Legislature made it unlawful for an agency to impose a ticket quota.
What we have with automated for-profit devices are non-Florida companies raking in millions. The way the system works is that the data (evidence) goes from the company's device to the company for processing. It is then sent to the local police. The company has a huge financial interest in these cases and no oversight to prevent misconduct.
Another problem in the for-profit aspect of the system is that intersections seeing a...