BRADENTON – At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, commissioners were given a presentation that offered some insight into the highly controversial issue of red light cameras. Some citizens suspect that the cameras are being installed primarily to produce additional revenue, while others claim they are an extra set of eyes, always there and cheaper than additional police officers.
Sgt. Mike Kenyan is in charge of Sheriff Steube's Red Light Camera Analysis Team at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. He and his fellow officers receive the videos from a third party contractor, after the incident has occurred at the intersection where it was recorded (Florida law requires that a police officer review the tapes before a citation is issued).
Before video clips get to Kenyan and his team, they have been determined to be violations by Xerox State and Local Solutions Inc. (XSLS), the company contracted with the county to supply the cameras.
In Kenyan's presentation, he displayed video clips of several occasions captured by XSLS, all of which were deemed violations by the contractor. But many of the claims were not supported by MCSO's team, and tickets were not sent to the owner of the tagged vehicle.
State law requires all vehicles to come to a complete stop when making a right turn at a red light; giving license to law enforcement to ticket the driver whether it be recorded by camera or by sight of an officer witnessing the event.
But the 2010 Safety Act adopted in Tallahassee allows vehicles to slowly roll without coming to a complete stop as long as it is done in a "careful and prudent" manner. There lies the quagmire in the controversy.
It is the job of Kenyan's officers to determine whether red light roll throughs are violations or not when a vehicle is recorded for making an illegal right turn on red.
When XSLS approached Manatee County, offering to place cameras at their most dangerous intersections, Sheriff Steube identified 10 of the most dangerous in the county.
XSLS, who then went by the name Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), also hired an independent analysis company to survey county intersections for the most problematic. They chose eight that would benefit most from their services.
And benefit they did; the ones they chose to service only included 1 of the 10 intersections the Sheriff had on his list. ACS's survey focused on intersections that had habitual roll-through right turns; not the extremely-dangerous red light runners, leading critics to believe their choices were based solely on opportunity for revenue, rather than regard for safety.
Another seemingly flawed aspect in the contract between XSLS and the county is that no matter if the Sheriff's office determines the clip to be valid or not, XSLS still gets paid $75 for each clip they deemed a violation.
I asked the Sheriff if there was a conflict here, and he said, he is not involved with the contract negotiations, just the law and the enforcement of it.
It was County Commissioners who made the deal, signed the contract and didn't insist that the last call on locations be placed in the Sheriff's hands.
Sheriff Steube didn't agree with the intersections chosen. He supports the call of "careful and prudent" his officer make, and does not agree XSLS should be paid for a violation; that may not be viewed as one by trained law enforcement officers here in Manatee County.
There is also a contradiction in the law that governs the state's two interceptions of how a right turn red light violation is described.
The Sheriff said, "We need to focus on the intersections that present the most harm to residents of Manatee County."
I asked the Sheriff if the commission negotiated a contract with XSLS that gave MCSO the final say on location of intersection with cameras and to the decision on what is a violation and what isn't, would that be acceptable? Steube said, "They won't do that."
It seems commissioners are not keen to take responsibility for a poorly-negotiated contract. The double interpretation of the law, and the double standard by which enforcement is bound, can only spell trouble for everyone involved, including drivers.
With the multi-modal travel of bike lanes, pedestrian walks and increasing amount of people not in cars on the Complete Streets now being adopted by Manatee and other counties, pragmatism would seem much more important than opportunism.
Some of the video Sgt. Kenyan displayed at Tuesday's meeting clearly showed something we all see every day: cars bolting around corners with little to no concern to others. Others showed little more than technicalities that seemed to be exploited for profit. Regardless of the remedy, it should be one where "safety first" doesn't take a back seat to making a buck.
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