Cameras could slow speeders in North Port
NORTH PORT -- Red-light runners: Say "cheese." You could soon be getting a ticket in the mail when a camera catches you blowing through a city intersection.

North Port is among a handful of Florida cities considering installing cameras at intersections. The city is investigating whether to adopt the program, which would require passing a city ordinance.

Regardless of the driver, the owner of the vehicle found in violation would be subject to a fine.

"I want to do it for safety purposes," said City Commissioner Barbara Gross, who was one of three commissioners who voted in favor of a resolution to explore installing the cameras. "If you just do it to make money, and shorten the yellow light, that to me is not an acceptable thing to do."

Some counties, including Sarasota and Manatee, had installed cameras at red lights under pilot programs. But since state law requires an officer to witness the red light violation and for the violator to sign off on the ticket, no violators were fined.

The state Legislature has considered legislation that would change that, and one legislator plans to push the issue this session.

North Port would get around the current state law by enforcing the violations under a city ordinance.

City officials say it is too early to say how much motorists would be fined and which of the city's 10 traffic lights would have cameras.

The program would likely be modeled after one in Gulf Breeze, the city in the Florida Panhandle with a population of 6,000 people that was the first in the state to fine violators who were caught on tape.

The camera was installed at a busy intersection near a school. It has acted as a deterrent to red light runners and is partly responsible for cutting down on the number of accidents, said the city's police chief, Peter Paulding.

"Our data is showing that people are complying," he said.

The number of violations caught on camera steadily declined from about 150 a month when the camera was first installed last March to 95 in January, Paulding said.

A police officer reviews the photos to ensure the violation occurred, and then Traffipax, the Maryland-based vendor that installed and operates the cameras, sends out the notices.

The fine is $100, and Traffipax takes anywhere from 35 to 45 percent of that as a fee for providing the service.

North Port City Commissioner Vanessa Carusone opposes the plan because of privacy concerns and because the city has not decided where the money generated from the fines will go.

"It concerns me that somebody is going to be taping you," she said. "What's next?"

North Port police Capt. Robert Estrada plans to go to Gulf Breeze next week to find out more about the program.