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Chief: M'ville 'really not' a speed trap

BYy Stacey Hartley • Jul 6, 2019 at 2:00 PM

MONROEVILLE — New state restrictions on red-light and speed-detection camera programs went into effect this week.

Some communities in Ohio have suspended their photo-enforcement program.

Others, including the city of Dayton, remain defiant and have no plans to change their programs despite the threat of financial penalties, claiming a preliminary injunction granted to Toledo blocks the new law statewide.

Closer to home, Monroeville continues to use its traffic cameras but as of Wednesday it has quit issuing tickets. Monroeville Police Chief Gary Lyons said his officers still are out with their cameras and are storing the data until the new law is clarified. 

The new Ohio law — which reduces local government funding to cities that use automated traffic cameras — violates home rule and is unconstitutional, Dayton officials say.

Supporters say cameras reduce crashes and change dangerous driving behaviors.

Critics of automated traffic cameras say they are little more than a cash grab to fill government coffers.

Traffic camera restrictions included in Ohio House Bill 62 took effect Wednesday.

“Red-light cameras are too often used to police for profit, and this practice must stop,” said state Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg). “These new restrictions will protect Ohioans from becoming victims to overzealous local politicians trying to make a quick buck to fund their pet projects.”

“That’s not indicative of our goals here,” Lyons said in response to Antani’s comment. “We try to be fair. We try to give (people) the benefit of the doubt.” 

The “doubt” consists of fines imposed for speeding and other traffic violations, which generated around $180,000 for the village last year — a total that, according to the police chief, is on the “lower end” of the spectrum. Under the new law, however much the village receives in fines, it will lose in government funding.

Chief Lyons reiterated a statement he made during a May 28 community meeting about the proposed municipal complex building, that 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles travel through the village that some say has a reputation for being a “speed trap.”

Even with the police department getting a new hand-held radar tool, Lyons disagrees with that reputation, and the idea that Monroeville’s aim is to jail speeding drivers.

“People say it’s a speed trap, but it’s really not. Coming into town just from Rt. 20 there are four signs indicating the drop in speed (limit) — including one with blinking lights and a digital read-out that shows you exactly how fast you’re driving. So, it’s no secret … we want people to go the speed limit.”  

“We can’t put people in jail just for speeding,” he added. 

The new state law requires cities and jurisdictions that operate automated red-light and speed-detection cameras to report their revenues from fines to the state. The state then will reduce the amount of local government funds jurisdictions receive by an equal amount.

The new law ensures cities truly are operating red-light and speed cameras for public safety purposes, Antani said.

In addition, per House Bill 62, traffic cameras are not allowed on interstate highways, and traffic citation/ticket appeals are now to be heard by the courts, as opposed to administrative officers that handled those cases up until this point.

Lyons went on to say “it’s obvious there are legislators out there that don’t like photo enforcement.”

“It goes back to the Supreme Court’s original ‘Home Rule’ decision … I can understand (municipalities having) oversight, but I find it disturbing that outside legislators think they can meddle in community (business) without consulting the citizens that live there.” 

Last month, the city of Toledo was granted a preliminary injunction in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to prevent enforcement of the new law as the city challenges its constitutionality.

Toledo claims the new law violates home rule and expects to raise other constitutional issues.

With the bill’s passing, Lyons admitted to waiting to see how the recent injunctions filed by larger cities such as Toledo are decided, and that as of Wednesday, the MPD is still reviewing and pursuing citations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cornelius Frolik of the Dayton Daily News (TNS) contributed to this story.

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