Cameras nab speeders by the thousands
Red-light runners snagged less often
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Plain Dealer Reporter
For every speeder caught by a Cleveland police officer the last five months, the city's new speeding cameras snagged three.
From December to April, the cameras nabbed more than 26,000 drivers at busy intersections and in school zones, according to Cleveland Municipal Court, which collects the fines. During the same period, officers wrote about 7,900 speeding tickets.
"It's doing what it's supposed to do," Public Service Director Jomarie Wasik said of the camera program.
Wasik was not certain why red-light runners were issued far more tickets by police (8,714) than by cameras (556).
She said the city projected 3,700 tickets would be issued monthly by 15 cameras. Twenty-seven of the 30 planned red-light cameras are now operating in Cleveland. They have gone up in phases, beginning with four in December.
Regardless of whether they are caught by camera or by an officer, drivers pay their fines late at about the same rate: On average, about 22 percent of tickets were past due as of April 30, court records show.
Camera tickets are $100 to $200, depending on the violation, and late fees range from $20 to $60. Tickets written by police average about $179, and late fees start at $25.
Collecting more of the overdue traffic fines isn't the only challenge facing the city: More than 16,500 people, each with four or more past-due parking tickets, owe Cleveland $4 million. Parking ticket fees range from $25 to $100.
Turner thinks there are two main reasons the city can't collect more of this money:
Some drivers hope the city will do away with the controversial red-light and speeding cameras, so they are not rushing to pay.
Weak penalties for parking scofflaws don't encourage payment. Penalties range from a $10 late fee to towing the car of an owner who is illegally parked and owes fines on four or more past-due tickets.
Turner wants stiffer penalties for the latter group.
He has asked City Council to pass a law that would allow the city to tow the cars of owners who have four or more unpaid parking tickets, even if the cars are legally parked at the time. He's seeking the same penalty for those with four or more overdue red-light or speeding tickets, too.
Council's Public Safety Committee recently reviewed the bill and some members suggested empowering the city to use a boot on cars of parking scofflaws.
The locking device, which wraps around a wheel, prevents a vehicle from being driven until the boot is removed. Turner's office is studying the option.
Whatever punishment the city chooses, Turner said it needs to be strong enough to persuade more people to pay their parking tickets on time.
"We feel there is a lack of respect with our program because our penalties are not significant enough to make the person pay [right away]," he said.
As for collecting red-light and speeding-camera fines, Turner said the number of hearings requested for those who want to contest tickets is slowing the payment process.
Speeding and red-light tickets issued by police officers are criminal violations. The same violations caught on camera are civil infractions and can only be contested at a hearing. The hearings are not official court proceedings and take place in a small room at the Parking Violations Bureau.
More than 500 people have contested a camera ticket - forcing dozens of hearings a week. Most were found guilty and required to pay their full fine, a court spokesman said. About a dozen had their fines reduced, and 59 had their tickets dismissed as of April 30.
People are particularly reluctant to pay the $200 speeding tickets, Turner said. Fewer than half of the 1,800 people issued tickets between December and April have paid them, Turner said. (Slightly more than half have paid the $100 fines.)
The $200 tickets go to those caught on camera driving more than 25 mph above the speed limit or speeding in a school or construction zone. Police officers in mobile units operate cameras in school zones. They do not pull cars over, but take pictures of the speeders' license plates.
Unmanned cameras snap pictures of speeding cars at intersections throughout the city.
Three of six stationary cameras and all six mobile units are working, Wasik said.
The city hopes to get all of the cameras up this year. They are projected to bring in $6 million in revenue.
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