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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tamarac sees positive results in red light camera program, despite legal minefield

By Karen Kidd | Aug 5, 2016

TAMARAC – Despite ongoing litigation and general controversy in Florida over the use of red light cameras, the program in Tamarac has the nod of its city commission and some encouragement from an appeals court ruling earlier this week.

Thus far, city officials have found almost three years of the program has yielded positive results, Tamarac Public Information Officer Elise Boston said in during a brief Florida Record email interview.

"The program was initiated for the safety of our community," Boston said. "From the program’s inception, October 2013, through June 2016, more than 43,000 notice of violations were issued," she said. "Of that number, 80 percent were issued to non-residents and 97 percent had no second violation. That underscores the fact that once people become aware, they modify their behavior."

That was a large part of the reason city commissioners voted during their July 13 meeting to extend its contract with its Arizona-based vendor its vendor, American Traffic Solutions, into 2020, making Tamarac one of a relative few cities in the state that still use the devices. The item was passed as part of the consent agenda during the commission's meeting.

"The city commission felt the program was of enough importance to continue," Boston said.

The city of Tamarac will pay American Traffic Solutions a monthly fee of $54,000, which is the bulk of the average revenue from the program of about $76,500 but city officials have said getting traffic to slow down is a strong motivator, according to published reports.

The survival of Tamarac’s red-light program remains fairly unique among cities in Florida. Other cities have discontinued similar programs because of litigation over red light cameras in the state.

Officials with the city of Tamarac are treading very carefully.

"Because of ongoing litigation, our ability to comment is limited," Boston said.

However, Boston pointed out the timing just now is interesting for Tamarac, given a ruling by Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal earlier this week in favor of the city of Aventura and its red light camera program. That ruling, which overturned a lower court ruling that went against Aventura, rejected a motorist's claims that the south Florida city gave too much authority to the company that operates its red-light camera programs.

Like Tamarac, Aventura's red light camera program vendor is American Traffic Solutions.

The 3rd District in its ruling issued July 27, found that Aventura relies on police officers, not their private contractor, when making decisions about traffic citations.

"Not only do the bright-line standards promulgated by the city ensure the vendor's tasks regarding images are purely ministerial and non-discretionary in nature, but the record reflects that no notice or citation is issued unless and until an individual officer of the city weighs the evidence in the images and determines in his or her professional judgment that probable cause exists," the ruling said. "The officers make these decisions in the same manner they decide to issue a roadside citation."

Despite its ruling, the 3rd District indicated the case should not end there. The court's ruling certified three issues in the case that have great public importance and urged the Florida Supreme Court to take up the matter.

Tamarac's red light camera program, like those still active in a hand full of cities in the state, is rooted in a 2010 Florida Statute, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, which referred to the use of traffic control devices to enforce traffic laws.

Much of the history of red light camera in the city of Tamarac was outline in a Powerpoint presentation reviewed by city commissioners prior to their recent vote. Tamarac adopted its ordinance to provide for implementation of a red light camera enforcement program in the city in September of that year.

In November 2012, the city of Tamarac entered an agreement with American Traffic Solutions to provide red light cameras in certain city intersections and the program got underway the following December. The following June, city commission adopted an ordinance that incorporated city and state law, incorporating those changes into its agreement with American Traffic Solutions.

Tamarac's program, like that of many cities in the state, was legally challenged. In late spring of last year, the city briefly halted its program after the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled the city could not delegate ticket-writing to a third-party vendor. Tamarac reinstated the program soon after.

Meanwhile, a variety of litigation involving multiple cities in the state are working through the courts. In April, the Florida Supreme Court declined to rule on a 4th District Court of Appeals decision that the city of Hollywood outsourced too much of its program to its red-light vendor. The 4th District ruling had promoted courts in Broward County to dismiss more than 24,000 red-light camera tickets and Palm Beach County put its own program on hold.

The state Supreme Court ruled this past spring that earlier versions of the Florida's red light law was unfair to rental car drivers.

Despite the litigation and controversy, the red light camera programs have had noticeable results, according to the PowerPoint presentation in Tamarac. More than 4 million notices of violations in the state over the past four years, according to the presentation.

If those, 43,225 notices of violations were issued in the city of Tamarac between Oct. 1, 2013, and June 30, with 15 cameras positions at eight intersections in the city.

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