Cleveland enlists help to keep its traffic cameras

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CLEVELAND (AP) — Officials are enlisting the help of a popular mayor, governor and longtime U.S. senator George Voinovich to help defeat a ballot issue that would outlaw the use of speed and red-light cameras in the city.

Voters on Tuesday will decide whether they want Cleveland to keep the automated cameras that ticket motorists.

If the ballot issue is approved, Cleveland will only be able to enforce traffic camera violations if a police officer is present and writes the ticket, which would likely mean an end to a profitable program for the city.

Cameras opponents argue that the process for appealing these tickets violates the constitutional right of due process because cases are heard by someone from the city administration and not a court as the law requires.

City officials have enlisted Voinovich to appear in a television ad that emphasizes how traffic cameras help keep city streets safe.

Mayor Frank Jackson said Wednesday that the cameras are about safety and not revenue, but he acknowledged that losing the cameras would require budget cuts. Cleveland collected $5.8 million last year from camera violations and $5.1 million so far this year.

"Since I don't manufacture money, we've got to cut $6 million somewhere," Jackson said.

Cleveland fines are $100 and jump to $200 for violations in school zones and for anyone caught driving 25 mph or more above the speed limit. Jackson said that if the camera program was about just about revenue, he'd have them calibrated differently: Motorists must be 11 mph over the speed limit before they're ticketed.

Jackson said 80 percent of cameras are in school zones and "high-crash" areas and have helped reduce accidents. He added that the cameras are objective and eliminate the potential for racial profiling.

Traffic cameras are a contentious issue around the state as attorneys fight their use. The Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights has a similar measure on Tuesday's ballot.

But it's the Ohio Supreme Court that may have the last word on traffic cameras as it decides a case out of Toledo.

Andrew Mayle is an attorney representing Kentucky motorist Bradley Walker, who was ticketed in Toledo. Walker won his case at the local appellate level, but Toledo and its camera vendor appealed to the Supreme Court.

Mayle said having someone from the city, instead of a municipal court, adjudicate camera tickets violates the separation of powers.

"If they were right, any city could adopt any ordinance, provide any level of fine and a city employee is going to decide whether you're guilty or not," Mayle said.

Maryanne Petranek, who helped lead the campaign to ban traffic cameras in Cleveland, thinks Tuesday's vote could go either way. She said she's never had a camera ticket or a moving violation but is driven by principle.

"In this country we're innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent," she said.