The Eighth District Court of Appeals has ruled Cleveland’s traffic camera program unconstitutional. The three judge panel said that the city had no right to take speeding ticket infractions from its rightful jurisdiction in municipal court. Not only is this a victory for motorists who feel their 4th Amendment rights have been violated by the cameras, it’s a victory for taxpayers.
While public safety officials claim that traffic cameras are an effort to cut down on car accidents and people running red lights, it is ostensibly a program to generate money for the city. However, it does neither of these things very well.
Each camera costs between $60,000 and $90,000. The court challenges have only driven the costs higher. Should the city decide to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, the bill will simply continue to grow. How much money has this program generated for the city? Last year when the city added 26 cameras, city officials said the program contributed around one-percent of the $500 million budget. While a few million sounds good in theory, circumstances will wipe out the profits. As the court cases go on, plus the possibility that the state may outlaw them outright, that profit margin will get smaller. It may even get to the point where hiring more officers was the more profitable decision. There is also a non-trivial possibility that the city may have to refund tickets. In short taxpayers will have paid for a revenue program that cost the city more money than it made.
However, the program is said to be about safety. It supposedly reduces the number of accidents. This is, in a sense true. It reduces right angle collisions at intersections. However, they have been found to increase rear collisions. People tend to slam on the breaks when they reach red light cameras which leads to more accidents. In other words, as an instrument of public safety, red light cameras fail.
Assuming that the cameras withstand challenges in the state courts and legislature, you have to wonder how much more money cities would have if they spent as much time and resources fighting real crime as they spent fighting for traffic cameras. Maybe businesses would be inclined to set up shop. Maybe residents wouldn’t be fleeing as soon as they had the chance. Maybe tourists would come to the city and stay awhile instead of driving through it as fast as possible with the window rolled up a la National Lampoon’s Vacation. Maybe that possibility will be given more consideration if and when the cameras stop rolling.