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Northeast Ohio communities defend use of traffic cameras as debate continues in Statehouse

Overwhelmingly, these municipalities say it's safety — not spending money — that they're after. However, several legal challenges remain.

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Mayfield Village police patrol a relatively small section of Interstate 271, but in late 2020, they started to recognize a big problem.

"Some drivers just decided to use the opportunity to drive a lot faster than they should be," Police Chief Paul Matias told 3News.

Matias says ODOT traffic data showed a 100% increase in the number of cars speeding 85 miles per hour or faster in the 60 mile per hour zone, particularly during rush hours. He started to investigate his options.

This past Jan. 1, after a month of warnings, the village started mailing speeding tickets.

"Every study … that's been done shows that the faster you go, the greater chance you have of being in a crash, and the severity of a crash increases," Matias said. "We're just asking people just slow down a little bit."

Mayfield's plan includes no fixed cameras, just officers using the handheld laser cameras along the stretch during weekday rush hours. Matias says they aren't nitpicking either; they’ve only ticketed drivers traveling 16 or more miles an hour over the limit. In six weeks, the village collected more than $54,000 dollars.

"None of the numbers have really surprised us," Matias said. "What we're hoping is as people become more aware of the program and see that we're trying to get people to slow down, that they just start to voluntarily bring their speed down a little bit."

Matias also conceded he'd be happy if that meant the dollars — earmarked to improve police response to traffic incidents and enforcement — drop off, too.

Safety of the officers conducting a traffic stop is another motivator for Mayfield as well as nearby Gates Mills. The latter community will soon use the same company, Gatso, to run fixed traffic cameras along Mayfield Road where there's no safe place to pull over. Those will go up in late spring.

Across town, Parma Heights City Council is looking at reactivating two traffic cameras currently in place at Parma and York Roads. That would likely happen in May or June, and Police Chief Steve Scharschmidt told us they'd also like a handheld camera to use on residential streets and school zones where speeding is a recognized issue.

Officials hoping to contract with Verra for the service. City Council will consider a second reading on the measure this coming Monday.

"[Whatever] your thoughts are on camera systems, in the end, they've committed a violation and it's on video," Scharschmidt said. "Operate safely, within the speed limit, and don't run red lights, and you know what? You're fine."

If the plan moves forward, Parma Heights will roll out the timeframe, including a month of warnings once the cameras are active.

Overwhelmingly, these municipalities say it's safety — not spending money — that they're after. And as a deterrent, they are adamant that it works.

"Our goal here is to get people to slow down," Matias stated again. "For people who don't like our photo enforcement program, if you just slow down through Mayfield Village, you don't have to participate in the program."

There are still several legal challenges to traffic camera use. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Ohio heard arguments from the city of Newburgh Heights over 2019's House Bill 62, which legislators passed to deter cities from photo enforcement by reducing state money given to local governments dollar for dollar by the total of fines collected. While we wait on that ruling, the Ohio House is now considering seven new and separate bills to regulate and mostly restrict camera use.

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