Cincinnati Officials Considering Handheld Traffic Cameras

The city says the cameras would allow police to ticket drivers via mail and could help improve pedestrian safety in the face of a budget deficit. Cincinnati's charter currently doesn't allow for such tactics, so voters would need to approve a change

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

City of Cincinnati officials say they’re considering equipping Cincinnati Police officers with technology like handheld traffic cameras to help improve pedestrian safety in the midst of a budget deficit. But that would require voters approving a change to the city’s charter.

In a memo released this week, Cincinnati City Manager Patrick Duhaney outlined some of the traffic safety efforts the city has already undertaken and other possible initiatives. That memo comes after an uproar around pedestrian safety caused by a number of recent incidents involving drivers and pedestrians, including multiple fatalities.

Drivers hit pedestrians more than 420 times in 2018, CPD data shows. That number, up more than 40 percent in the past five years, included 13 incidents involving students. One, Gabby Rodriguez, died after she was hit by two cars on Harrison Avenue last year.

Cincinnati City Council has appropriated $1 million over the past two years specifically for pedestrian safety. But that’s not enough, the city manager’s memo states — and without the help of technology, Duhaney argues, the city may not be able to afford all the measures it needs to keep walkers safe.

“More need to be done,” the memo reads. “However, combined with the myriad of other safety and priority needs of the city, it is very difficult to allocate all the resources needed to address this issue in totality given the operating and capital budget constraints faced by the city. It may be time to consider other options including the use of technology.”

Currently, the city faces a budget deficit totaling roughly $19 million, due in part to cuts to Ohio's local government fund. That has left less money for a number of city initiatives, including traffic safety.

Other camera-based traffic enforcement technology — read: red light cameras — has been highly controversial and legally problematic for municipalities in Ohio. But the handheld cameras, first proposed by Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman, are a bit different.

An officer would still be present during a traffic violation, but instead of pulling over a car on a busy street, the camera would record the incident and a ticket would be mailed to the driver later.

The city says the cameras could help decrease pedestrian-involved traffic incidents.

“Initial reviews of this technology indicate there is a correlation between use of the technology and a reduction in crashes and speeding incidents in those cities that deploy such technology,” the memo reads. “Speed cameras are widely considered the most impactful tool available in the fight to improve pedestrian safety and decrease crash rates.”

Some European studies suggest there is a correlation between speed cameras and a reduction in crashes, though another 2013 study conducted in Arizona didn't come to the same conclusions.

Voters changed Cincinnati’s charter 10 years ago to require an officer to present a traffic ticket to a driver in person on the spot. That would need to be changed to implement the handheld cameras — something voters would have to weigh in on. Would voters opt to give police more options for ticketing drivers? We may find out this year.

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