Are there 3,333 motorists inside Cincinnati city limits who run red lights each month? Anyone who's driven around the Queen City could tell you, "Probably not."
Cincinnati City Council, however, is hoping there are.
Council members slipped a plan into this year's budget that calls for installing 10 automated cameras at various intersections to snap photographs of cars that run red lights, registering their license plates. Council members hope the "red light cameras," which they estimated would generate $1 million annually in fines, would be one way to help offset a budget deficit.
As with most things that city officials do in a hurry, it's not quite working out as planned.
For starters, the cameras won't be up and running until this fall, according to a memo by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. Because Ohio law prohibits issuing any tickets during the first 30 days that a system is operational, that means the cameras will be used to issue tickets for three months this year at most. With citations costing $100 a pop, it would take 3,333 successful convictions each month for city officials to meet their 2008 revenue goals for the program.
The trouble is, Cincinnati Police issued only 2,992 tickets for red light violations for all of 2007, statistics show.
If that were the only snafu involving the cameras, maybe it would be worth the hassle.
But it's just the beginning.
City law requires that every photo be personally reviewed by a Cincinnati Police officer, which opponents of the plan say will divert resources from more pressing duties.
The law also requires an appeal process be created for motorists who challenge their tickets. That system, yet to be created, will be handled by the city's Office of Administrative Hearings, which already is facing staffing issues because of its workload.
Council members Jeff Berding, Chris Bortz, Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel opposed the camera plan; they scoff at supporters' claims that the cameras will increase safety.
"I'm not totally opposed to them, but I'm not going to pretend it's for safety," Ghiz says. "That's a cop-out. It's to generate revenue, pure and simple. Keep in mind, if it does what it's supposed to do and be a deterrent, we won't get revenue off of them after a while or it will drop."
Some people dislike the cameras on purely philosophical grounds. The NAACP's Cincinnati branch has called the cameras "an unnecessary government intrusion into private lives." The group is circulating petitions to get a charter amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would ban their use.
Other cities across Ohio and the nation — including Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton — already use the cameras. Supreme courts in some other states have prohibited them, but the Ohio Supreme Court recently upheld their constitutionality. Interestingly, the Ohio court didn't address due process questions, holding that issue off for another day.
Meanwhile, get ready for another visit by Big Brother later this year.
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