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City of Toledo backs Dayton in traffic-camera case

Fate of city’s cameras at stake in Ohio Supreme Court case

COLUMBUS — Toledo has come to the defense of Dayton’s automated traffic cameras, knowing the fate of its own cameras will be at stake when Dayton goes before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday.

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The traffic camera on Douglas Road at University Hills Boulevard in Toledo is active and the city continues to collect fines from people running red lights.

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Toledo, Springfield, East Cleveland, Akron, and the Ohio Municipal League all have joined with Dayton in arguing that Ohio lawmakers are intentionally trying to switch off cities’ traffic cameras and effectively kill their 105-year-old home-rule authority.

“[Senate Bill] 342 was designed to look like a series of regulations when, in fact, it is actually a ban,” reads Toledo’s brief before the court. “The fact that the legislation creates a ban is supported by math. The Ohio Legislative Service Commission determined that the cost of staffing each device in Ohio with a full-time officer would cost cities $73 million per year. This new cost was more than quadruple the amount of fine revenue generated statewide from current devices …

“S.B. 342 creates a ban on automated traffic-law-enforcement systems by making them too expensive to use,” it reads.

Toledo cameras on

Toledo sued the state and has won — so far. Its cameras are operating. Citations are being mailed. Fines are being collected.

However, some cities such as Dayton and Columbus opted to turn their cameras off at least until after the matter is resolved in court. Dayton sued the state and won in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, but then lost before the Second District Court of Appeals.

That set up a conflict in appellate rulings that the Ohio Supreme Court is trying to resolve. The court has also accepted the Toledo and Springfield cases, but expects to decide them based on what happens with Dayton.

The Supreme Court has twice stated cities have the right to operate red-light and speed-enforcement cameras as an extension of their home-rule police powers. It said so as recently as 2015 in a 4-3 decision that upheld Toledo’s camera citation appeals process.

But this marks the first time the high court will hear a case in which a city’s camera ordinance is in direct conflict with a state law.

In 2014, the General Assembly passed and Gov. John Kasich signed its first law addressing the cameras amid arguments.

Critics of the cameras argue that the cities operate them more like cash machines than public safety. The automation, they argue, removes the discretion of a police officer not to issue a ticket, such as when a car is making a turn on red, and results in tickets against a vehicle owner, regardless of whether the owner was driving.

Crash statistics

While cities cite studies showing that the cameras have reduced deadly T-bone crashes at intersections, critics counter with numbers suggesting rear-end collisions on the climb as drivers slam on the brakes at camera-protected intersections.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, in defending the law, argues that cities’ home-rule authority when it comes to police powers is not unconditional.

“At day’s end, the Home Rule Amendment’s framers enacted a compromise,” his office argues. “Municipalities gained the power to establish internal government structures, but not the power to regulate the citizenry in a way that conflicted with the General Assembly’s choices. Yet Dayton [and the other cities] ask the Court to undo that compromise by granting them supremacy in the police-power realm. This Court should reject that approach to the Home Rule Amendment today just as it has done in the past.”

Officer presence

Among other things, the new state law requires a police officer be present before a camera-triggered civil citation may be issued. When Toledo and other cities won court orders prohibiting the state from enforcing the new law, lawmakers responded by adding a provision to the state budget passed in 2015 to withhold local aid equal to the gross fines imposed under the program until cities comply with the law.

In Toledo’s case, the punishment was blocked along with the law by Lucas County Common Pleas Court and the 6th District Court of Appeals.

Dayton argues that lawmakers pursued the restrictions only after realizing an outright ban would be unconstitutional.

“The Officer Present Requirement dictates to local authorities how they may deploy law enforcement resources, without serving any legitimate public purpose,” its brief reads. “Indeed, the Officer Present Requirement does not require that the officer be in a marked patrol car, look at the street, look at automobiles, look at the traffic signal, be awake, or even pay attention to anything in particular. The officer just has to be ‘present’ in body at the location of a device.

“Moreover, the statute requires that the officer be a full-time officer in the jurisdiction, so even though Ohio law allows a part-time police officer to make felony arrests, a part-time officer is deemed unfit by SB 342 to be present at the location of a traffic camera,” it reads.

Fine collections

Through the first 11 months of its fiscal year, Toledo collected $1.9 million in net fines from its stationary cameras, well ahead of the $1.5 million projected. The camera program is operated by Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, which keeps a share of fines.

The camera issue is just the latest tug-of-war between the state and cities over home rule. While the Supreme Court has previously sided with cities on traffic cameras, it has sided with the state in striking down bans on carrying of guns in city parks and requirements that certain city employees live where they work.

It remains unclear how the high court’s position on home-rule authority will be affected by last week’s swearing-in of two new members from Cincinnati, Justices Pat Fischer and Pat DeWine.

It will mark the first time that Justice DeWine will sit in judgment of a case handled by the office of his father, Attorney General Mike DeWine, the state’s lawyer. Democrats argued during last year’s campaign that he would have to recuse himself from such cases; he has stated that he would have no conflict as long as his father isn’t personally arguing the case.

No party in the Dayton case has sought his recusal.

The new justices replace former Justices Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo, and Paul Pfeifer, of Bucyrus. In the most recent 4-3 decision reaffirming cities’ right to run the cameras, former Justice Lanzinger was in the majority while then-Justice Pfeifer dissented.

As he did in the 2015 Toledo case, Justice Terrence O’Donnell, of Rocky River, has taken himself off the Dayton case without explanation.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this story.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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