A camera that catches speeders in the northeast Ohio city of Girard violates the state constitution, a judge has ruled in ordering the city to stop using the camera.
While the ruling won't affect Toledo and Northwood, which have speed and red-light cameras, a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court could if the Trumbull County case is appealed to that level.
Girard treats such violations as a civil matter rather than a criminal violation of state traffic law in which points are assessed against a driver's license, Judge John Stuard of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court ruled Thursday in a class-action lawsuit involving more than 1,500 drivers.
"The legislature has authorized civil, noncriminal penalties to be set by municipalities for parking tickets. There has been no legislative action by the state to allow the extension of this concept to speeding," Judge Stuard wrote in his decision.
The judge ordered the city to stop using the camera, unless it issues the tickets as criminal violations, and to stop collecting fines under its existing ordinance.
The camera has been used for nearly one year, primarily on U.S. 422.
"This will be a foundation for other people to attack these cameras, at least in Ohio," said Girard Councilman Daniel Moadus, Jr., who filed a taxpayer lawsuit over the camera in August before being elected to council. Girard is near Warren and Youngstown.
Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said there will be no immediate changes in the use of the city's red-light cameras - some of which snap speeders - absent a court order.
Toledo has 25 cameras at 17 intersections.
Toledo and Northwood treat tickets from their cameras as civil violations.
Toledo has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in traffic-camera fines; Northwood has received tens of thousands in fines.
Officials say the devices reduce accidents at the camera locations.
Chief Navarre, a strong advocate of red-light cameras, said he does not feel as strongly about the use of cameras for speed enforcement "unless their use can be tied to the reduction of accidents and not merely for revenue generation."
"I'm seeing a trend across the U.S. in the use of speed cameras for generating revenue, and I think that's the wrong reason," he said.
Many in law enforcement are monitoring a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that could affect the use of photo-enforcement by municipalities.
The bill, which has passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate, would require police officers to be present to witness violations and issue tickets when speed cameras are used.
Cities such as Toledo argue that such a requirement negates the advantage of using cameras instead of officers in the first place.
The bill also would apply a series of new regulations for the operation of red-light cameras, which Toledo has argued would make the program more difficult to operate.
Northwood installed cameras to catch red-light runners and speeders in February, 2005, after a month-long testing period.
Two cameras monitor each side of Woodville Road at Lemoyne Road, a third camera watches eastbound Wales Road, and the last monitors northbound Oregon Road because of the number of traffic crashes at those intersections.
Northwood Police Chief Jerry Herman could not be reached for comment last night on the Trumbull County ruling.
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