Gotcha!: TPD’s Traffic Photo Enforcement Program

. February 26, 2019.
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This is your car and your plate in the picture? What would you like to have me consider?” Attorney J.P. Smith addresses the cited driver in the first case at the February 12th docket of photo enforcement appeals hearings, where about 15 people were waiting to have their appeals heard at One Government Center downtown.

“I had a ticket like 3 weeks before that in a 50 so after getting a ticket I was very observant of those [work zone speed] signs, so I don’t understand that,” Erin, a Nurse from West Toledo, pleaded with Attorney Smith, the designated hearing officer for these appeals. She was clocked at 61 miles per hour. “I feel that there was still clerical error on (the city’s) behalf,” she said. Mr. Smith nevertheless found for the City.

The hearings soon turned heated when Phillip Runyan, clocked driving 66 in a 50mph work zone, argued that only stationary, not handheld cameras, are authorized under the city’s ordinance and that officers needed to be in visible areas. “I will look at the evidence. I will make a provisional ruling, and I will take the specific things you’re suggesting to me under advisement, and then there will be a written decision that will be forthcoming,” said Mr. Smith.

“This is police state bullshit, this is overstepping their boundaries, that’s why he didn’t rule in there,” Runyan said outside the room after the hearing. “Most of the people who are in there right now were ticketed on the exact same day, most were doing the usual speed limit of 60 miles per hour.”

Effect of the camera

If you’re driving at 11 miles per hour over the speed limit or faster, you are a target of Toledo Police Department’s (TPD’s) stationary and handheld photo traffic enforcement around town. The fine, no matter how fast you’re driving, is $120. A conviction, however, results in no points being assessed against your license because the citations are civil violations. The ticket is not reported to your insurance company. No court appearance is necessary. People who do receive notice of an infraction and the accompanying directive to pay a fine in the mail, can appeal and argue their case at a hearing.

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A snapshot in time

TPD began a program of stationary photo enforcement in 2001 with installation of those big clunky metal boxes that contain cameras and lasers atop metal poles seen at certain intersections. Handheld photo enforcement is much newer – it began in 2016 – and often targets cars on the expressway. Today, there are 43 stationary cameras throughout the city, most of which include two cameras pointing in different directions at the same intersection. The most recent bunch of stationary cameras were added in 2012. TPD currently uses eight handheld cameras.

TPD contracts with the company Redflex for all of its photo enforcement equipment. Redflex offers a handheld laser-camera, the LTI 20/20 TruCAM from Laser Technology Inc. (LTI) that takes a photo as well as a video of the targeted car. The cameras use LIDAR, light detection and ranging technology, to measure speed and GPS to note location. LIDAR is now being employed in self-driving cars.

“That’s a relatively new technology,” says Lieutenant Jeff Sulewski, Commander of TPD’s Traffic Section, referring to the handheld cameras. “I believe we were one of the first departments, at least for RedFlex, that started with this technology.”

TPD transmits the data from the cameras wirelessly to Redflex which processes the information and sends out fine notices. The City does not purchase the devices, but instead pays for them with a percentage of the collected fines. Redflex’s portion of each photo enforcement traffic fine, according to Sulewski, is the balance of the payment after the City of Toledo receives $90.25 for each fine from a stationary camera, and $100 for each handheld camera fine.

Safer, more convenient and economically beneficial

Handheld photo enforcement claims to be a safer and more convenient means of enforcing the speed limit on our highways. No longer must police officers in cars accelerate in traffic, traveling at excessive speeds to pull over speeding vehicles.

“This technology allows us to go to areas where we have a high number of violations, it allows us to go in and target these areas. If the officer’s using the camera, he can get almost everybody that’s speeding through that area,” says Sulewski, “it just magnifies our ability to do the enforcement, instead of writing one person a ticket…we might get 10.”

That magnification of the number of speeding tickets from the handheld photo enforcement program has created a very large source of cash for the City: The City of Toledo took in $5.3 million from that program alone in 2018. That’s $5.3 million in annual fine revenue that is completely new to the City since the beginning of the handheld photo enforcement program in 2016. In 2018 the stationary cameras earned the city a little over $2 million. With the flood of handheld and stationary camera tickets, fines and forfeiture revenue now makes up 3.78 percent of city revenues, almost as much as property taxes at 4.6 percent.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz declined to comment on the revenue windfall but said in a statement that the speed and red-light cameras are “important tools that keep our citizens safe.” Asked if the money could go to improving Toledo’s roads, the Mayor responded that road repair is one of his top priorities, “which is why last year we resurfaced more miles of road than at any time since 1999.”

Appealing stats

If you come home to a letter from the Toledo Police in your mailbox containing a notice of a $120 fine for speeding or running a red light, you may want to try your luck by appealing your ticket. TPD provided TCP with a record of appeal hearings from 2018: Out of 2,674 violations, 670, or 25 percent, were dismissed after appeal.

“We’re not looking to nickel and dime people and catch somebody that’s 5 over the limit,” says Sulewski, “If you’re over 10 (mph over the posted limit) it usually means one of two things, you’re either purposely speeding or you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing… we feel that ( in those circumstances) that it’s fair (to issue a citation). We’re looking to slow those speeds down.”

  • Phillip Runyan

    Phillip Runyan here, happy to share with TCP or any other Toledo area residents the letter I supplied to Officers B. Cramer and D. Wilkinson who take these matters under “further advisement.” To be clear, when I tried to read TMC 313.12 to make my point, Attorney J.P. Smith repeatedly stopped me from doing so – I imagine all those other victims of police overreach weren’t suppose to hear what I had to say. The police officer at the hearing was welcome to defend his actions at any time, not once being silenced, going so far as to yell out that his field handbook allows him to be overt or covert when operating the handheld cameras – which 100% goes against what Lieutenant Sulewski has previously been quoted as stating: they want the uniformed officers to be in visible areas. The officer at the hearing then tried the, “well that depends on what your definition of “is,” is” defense by suggesting that we should debate what “visible” means. Mind you, all this after he acknowledged that he was on an on ramp, tagging motorists from above as they went under the overpass, and the only way he could have been seen is if you were in oncoming traffic OR were staring into your rear view mirror as he picked off people who – as explained in the article above – genuinely believed it was a 60mph zone. But i digress…