Opinion/Analysis

RLC 2.0: The hunt for Red Light Cameras: Part One

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

For the next three days leading up to the City Council vote on Wednesday night, The Apopka Voice will be reporting on the red light camera program. Will it pass? Or will they turn the cameras off? In Part One, we begin with the bluster, hyperbole, and rhetoric that has been said at City Council meetings during public comments, and posted on social media about the upcoming RLC debate and vote.

 What is it about red light cameras that drives Apopkans crazy?

 Is it their anonymous judgment? Is it a sense of losing one’s right to privacy? Is it annoying fines that arrive in the mail a month later? 

Despite the Apopka Police Department endorsing the red light camera program as improving public safety, and the added value of $800,000 to $900,000 landing in the Apopka budget without raising taxes, of which 70% is allegedly from out of town drivers, 76.3% of Apopka residents want to turn them off according to a recent poll taken by The Apopka Voice.

But even more than the raw numbers is the passion and opinions associated with the RLC program. It’s hard to believe the emotion these non-descript metal boxes pointed at intersections and traffic lights can create.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look back at the comments made at the July 2017 City Council meeting in which red light camera opponents filled the Council chambers and 12 angry men spoke during public comments and went on a hyperbolic speaking spree that included such gems as these:

“These red light cameras are tyranny,” said one of the speakers. “They are Darth Vader. They are judge, jury, witness, and executioner all in one.”

One man compared the program to the oppression that King George imposed on the American colonies of the 18th-century and threatened to come back like the Tea Party and adjust the oppressor’s attitudes. That’s not the modern-day Tea Party he is talking about, but the ones from the 1700’s that dressed in Mohawk Warrior disguises, boarded three vessels docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, and over the course of three hours, dumped 342 chests of tea into the water, which to some degree advanced the idea of an American Revolution.

But referencing science fiction villains and American history was not the end of this red light camera tag-team tirade.

“The Red Light Camera program is the most illegal law ever passed,” said another speaker, while another said he would have the City Council arrested for violating their oath of office, and sue them for $250,000 each. “These red light cameras are anti-American, and politicians who vote for them are tyrants,” said a man with a t-shirt stating the same message.

Eventually, the 2017 City Council voted 3-2 to renew the RLC program, which brings us to 2018 and a brand new fight to turn the cameras off.

Call it RLC 2.0 – “The Hunt for Red Light Cameras”

Emotions flared in Apopka this weekend and last when the rumor began spreading that the RLC program would be decided at an August 15th City Council meeting, and then again after it was officially posted on the agenda.

Especially on social media.

Making the rounds this weekend and the previous one was a statement by former Apopka mayoral candidate Glen Chancy, who is a strong opponent of the red light camera program. He posted this on several sites over the weekend:

“The battle against Red Light Cameras in Apopka comes down to August 15th. On that date, Mayor Bryan Nelson is going to put forward a ban on Red Light Cameras for the City Council to vote on. This is going to be a tough fight. Apopka is the oldest Red Light Camera town in Florida, and the forces backing this scam will not let go easily. Mayor Nelson needs our support if we are to win this fight.”

Chancy called on residents to contact the City Council, share his post on Facebook, go to the City Council meeting, and a few other ways to get the word out, and he had hashtags that referenced the subject as well.

Also, last weekend, the community Facebook site Apopka P.R.O.U.D posted this question about the upcoming RLC vote:

 “Red Light Camera vote is on August 15th. What do you think that vote will look like? Who is voting for? Who is voting against?”

A simple enough question, but as is often the case on Facebook, the thread quickly unraveled into a debate about other things.

Bob Ryan, a newly appointed member of the Apopka Planning Commission, made a candid prediction on how Apopka City Commissioner Kyle Becker’s stance on the issue would be.

“I know Mr. Becker will vote to keep the red light cameras because he likes to spend money,” Ryan posted.

Becker responded to Ryan’s accusation by reminding him of his new position with the City.

“Mr. Ryan, considering you were just appointed to the City of Apopka Planning Commission, I would hope your level of maturity would reflect the position you will now serve.”

Ryan shot back with a reference to the millage rate increase that the City Council voted 5-0 on last month.

“Mr. Becker… Just because I’m doing volunteer work for the City of Apopka doesn’t mean I can not voice my opinion. You stated in a council meeting last month that you did not see the need for Apopka to have the lowest tax rate in Orange County. That leaves me to believe you want to raise our taxes again.”

Ryan’s accusation is an interesting one because Becker is on the record as being perhaps the most vocal opponent of red light cameras both on the campaign trail in 2016, and in the City Council discussions/votes of 2017. Prior to voting against the program, Becker said this to the Council during the discussion:

“First let me say thanks to (APD) Chief (Michael) McKinley, Captain Fernandez and the entire APD staff for putting together the data we received,” he said. “Obviously, it helps us make a more objective decision when we’re thinking about those things. When I started thinking about this, I asked myself what is the point of the program… and Captain Fernandez said it several times – it’s about reducing violations. But if we look at 2015 over 2014 in terms of increased traffic, the data shows that traffic increased 8.75%, with a 37% increase in violations. 2016 over 2015 there was a 0.9% increase in traffic with a 3.9% increase in violations. So the point I’m trying to make is that even with increased traffic volume we’re still outpacing that in violations, so we can’t draw a direct line to increased traffic as contributing to that problem.”

Last year Apopka resident Barb Zakszeswki wrote an editorial on her barbzack blog that was republished this weekend that compares the RLC program presentation given by APD Deputy Chief Randy Fernandez to “smoke and mirrors” and the RLC program itself to “Big Brother”. In her blog, she wrote:

 “After a nearly 20-minute presentation by Police Captain (Randy) Fernandez stated over and over that he was not “selling” the program; in fact, that is EXACTLY what he was doing; and touting the program’s ability to “modify peoples’ behavior”. Let me repeat that and then let it sink in for a second. After all the dog and pony, and all the drama and theatrics, after all the data and statistics that were sited, and the videos shown, the bottom line is the government-run Red Light Camera Program is about “modifying peoples’ behavior”.”

She closed her editorial with this:

“The presentation, given by Captain Fernandez… about red light cameras improving safety and saving lives, was all smoke and mirrors to cover their real purpose: modifying people’s behavior! The red light cameras are not about safety, they are not about the paltry revenue streams. Like Agenda 21 and even CRA’s, which were also on the meeting agenda; the purpose of government programs like red light cameras is to get people to behave in a certain manner, to modify their behavior in such a way that is pleasing to the government. Because after all, Big Brother IS watching you.”

This is what Fernandez said at the July 2017 meeting:

“I’m not here to sell anything,” he said. “That’s not what my job is. What I’m saying is it’s one of the things that help us do our job. My goal and my whole heart are for the city and the people who live here and how I can help them be safe.”

He also wanted to point out that red light cameras are not the miracle worker of public safety, but rather a piece to the puzzle.

“It’s a behavior modification tool so that people think about what they are doing. Is it the panacea? No, it’s not. But if we can make them think about what they’re doing… Everybody’s been on the Turnpike. What do you do when you see a trooper in the median? You lift your foot off the gas, maybe hit the brake and look at your speedometer. That’s a behavior. And that’s the goal that I’m looking for. Red light camera programs are just one component of an overall traffic safety program. It’s a tool in our toolbox. Just like a taser, or a radar gun, or a fingerprint reader or DNA. They’re all tools that we use.”

Keep calm Apopka. No need to call-out specific council members who are likely to vote against the RLC’s. No need to invoke Fahrenheit 451, or Star Wars references. No need to compare your plight to the American Revolution. The likelihood is that the City Council will listen to your public comments on Wednesday, debate and discuss the RLC program and then vote to end it.

In part two tomorrow: The Apopka Voice offers a recommendation on how to resolve the red light camera issue.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I still say , if 70% of the infractions are from out of towners, why are we letting 30% of the people rule on this, if you don’t run the red light , why complain. What is it costing the law abiding citizen other than time? I was taught that when you need to go someplace important arrive early, I have lived here over 30 years and never had a ticket , never gotten caught speeding in 60 years, Obey the rules and you will never have problems.

  2. IMO the red light cameras are causing chaos. People at the last minute realize the red light cameras are there, and slam on brakes, causing the driver behind them, to slam into them. I have witnessed this several times. Touch that white line on the pavement, and you could get a ticket. The worst is, if you try to fight for your due process, you get charged $255.00, (that is what I heard) which is way more than the original ticket. I don’t know about your vehicle insurance, but mine wants to know every single offense I may have committed, and why? So they can jack up my insurance! Most people can’t afford these red light cameras, maybe you all are just wealthy, and could care less…..also at Welch Road and RSR, in front of the 7-11, there is a metal pole that has the walk lights for the people on foot crossing the roads. I recently saw where it was plowed down by a vehicle, totally took out! I remember it wasn’t that long ago, that two pickup trucks had an accident, and one truck slammed over across the sidewalk, and took out the metal pole that housed the walk signals then. Did the red light cameras prevent those two walk signal poles from getting destroyed and plowed over? NO! People are bad drivers, no matter what, sorry to say it, but it is true for many drivers. Plus I do not believe what the police have said that it would take 4 police officers to police each intersection where the RLC are removed. You don’t see 4 police officers stationed at other intersections. In fact, you don’t see many officers out and about, period, considering the numbers of the officers. IMO

  3. Now, Mayor Nelson said repeatedly before the election, that he was going to get rid of and take down every red light camera in Apopka, meaning the city limits. He shouted this out, very soon after he stepped out to take the podium, at the mayor’s debate at the Highland Manor, and was applauded very loudly! Citizens here, in this city, took future Mayor Nelson for his word, I know I did. Now fast forward, and on Wednesday night coming up, at the city council, he will bring forth a ban on the red light cameras, BUT to be voted on, by the rest of the council members. This is what I want to know……..why did he allow this subject and vote to be even placed on the council agenda????? I don’t understand the various processes that the city council uses, but I know from observation, in the past, at the councils, that when the former mayors, Mayor Land, and Mayor Kilsheimer, didn’t like a subject, and was against a subject, they didn’t put the subject on the council agenda. Mayor Nelson is a strong mayor, not an honorary mayor, so why didn’t he just ban the red light cameras himself, and end the contract? He reserves the right to do whatever he sees fit to do, what is right, in the best interest of this city, is he not? Isn’t that in the city charter? I am asking, not stating facts. Also, even if the other council members vote to extend the RLC contract another four years, doesn’t Mayor Nelson have VETO power? I would like to know the answers to my questions, as a resident. As far as the other council member votes, all I can tell you is, if you all were against the RLC during you all’s campaigns for city commissioners, I would recommend to you all, that you don’t flip- flop your stance on the RLC, because I will assure you all, that the voters of this city, one way or another, will remember your votes, like a bunch of elephants that don’t forget, and will hold you responsible at the next election, when your term is up for re-election. And also, your talk during your election campaigns about keeping taxes low, and keeping budgets in perspectives…..Amen.

    • Yes, Mayor Nelson is a strong mayor, but he does not have veto power. He has a vote equivalent to the 4 city council members to make the vote an odd number to avoid ties. Mayor Land and Mayor Joe also had the same position and had to bring issues or proposals to the City Council in order to make a motion for vote. There is a time for discussion among the council members before motions are voted upon and this is where the mayor or any city council member may make their pitch to the other members before voting for or against the motion. Mayor Nelson has said he will bring this motion regarding the RLC this Wednesday, and hopefully convince the other council members to vote along with him to discontinue the contract with ATS December 31st.

      • Michael, I was just going by googling Mayoral Powers- National League of Cities, where it indicates that the strong mayor has veto power. I do know that the Apopka mayor, whoever was mayor in the past, or is currently serving as the mayor, has very broad powers, as I have heard that many times before. You may be right that Mayor Nelson doesn’t have veto power, I just don’t know, but I don’t know why he wouldn’t, according to what I read, on that website. Anyway, I have seen motions made, with a lack of a second motion by a commissioner, only to get a second, from Mayor K, and I have seen some serious finger pointing going on about that, from some “in the know” about those sort of things….but then the city attorney said it was okay. I certainly don’t know what is correct, at that circus up there at city hall, so I won’t argue about something I don’t understand fully. I think there should be time for discussion among the council members before motions are voted upon, like you stated, but unfortunately, what I have witnessed, since the new council took over, is some jumping in really fast, like it is a competition to see who can be first, to get the first motion in the fastest, and first. I think the council is moving way too fast, without serious thoughts on actions that affect most all of us citizens. Thanks for your input Michael. Tomorrow we will see how it goes!

        • I personally witnessed a couple of times at City Council Meetings in which Mayor Joe had a motion that he really wanted to get approved, and when the vote was to not approve the motion, he was visibly upset and did not veto the vote, so I would assume that the Mayor does not have veto power. I never saw Mayor Land veto a vote either, but I did not attend nearly as many meetings during Mayor Land’s tenure as Mayor Joe’s. I also have seen the Mayor second a motion made by another council person, as the Mayor does have the same powers as all other council persons. You may not have witnessed discussions about motions possibly because not much discussion was necessary, but I have seen some pretty extensive discussions in the past between council members (not this council) prior to voting on the motion. Usually the Mayor at some point will ask if there is any further discussion on this motion, and if there isn’t, they will go to voting. I’m sure there will be motions in the future which will have some important discussions if we wait long enough.

  4. What About increaseing the Yellow light by 2 Seconds, would that help alleviate the Slamming on of Breaks? Also Rt turns are very Subjective.

    • Increasing the yellow by 2 seconds would decrease red-light runners by about 85%. But that would take the profit out the system. 85% decrease is what data shows when the yellow light is lengthened by 2 seconds. 70% decrease by adding 1 second. 50% by adding 0.5 seconds.

      One should understand that the federal practice for setting the length of a yellow light is HALF the time it takes for the AVERAGE passenger sedan to stop on DRY PAVEMENT at the SIMPLEST intersection.

  5. I want to pass along a Case Western study which came to national attention via a July 19 article in phys (dot) org. The study was published (posted) in the Social Science Research Network on November 30 last year. The authors made an in-depth analysis – with proper statistical “controls” (always absent from the stats produced by your local PD) – of the camera programs in Houston (which shut its cameras down in 2012) and Dallas and found, “… the cameras changed the composition of accidents, but no evidence of a reduction in total accidents or injuries.” (Abstract, page 1 of the pdf of the study.) The study further found, “… the model suggests that the camera program led to a decrease in social welfare.” (Page 5 of the pdf of the study, line 5.) (The study is available on the University’s website; Google the title, Criminal Deterrence when there are Offsetting Risks: Traffic Cameras, Vehicular Accidents, and Public Safety.)

  6. Does anyone in Apopka care that Richard Anderson makes several thousand dollars being a lobbyist for the red light camera company?

  7. Last night I thought it was after midnight when I was posting, and when I stated we will see how it goes tomorrow. It was still Monday, before midnight, not Tuesday, so I was mixed up. The red light camera vote is Wednesday, not Tuesday, my mistake…..sorry. If the red light camera contract is extended, I just bet they can’t wait to have a new red light camera installed down there at Vick and Martin Streets, below the AHS, when that new traffic signal goes in, that they are working on currently. I’ll start driving down Maine St. and Lake Av. to avoid it, for sure, if the red light cameras aren’t axed! No wonder this is the lightning capital of the nation, WITH ALL THE RED LIGHT CAMERAS FLASHING, THEY THINK IT IS LIGHTNING!…..LOL! I’ll keep my fingers crossed, that they will get rid of the RLCs tomorrow, but I am very leery, that it will actually happen, especially since it seems somewhat tied in with an extra 3 percent raise to the city employees, that the police members are demanding. Guess any council members who vote for the red light camera contract for 4 more years, really want those big ATS campaign donations (the red light camera company) in the future, plus their extra 3 percent raise probably….!!! Uh-huh!!! The Apopka voters are like a bunch of elephants who never forget, so beware, beware, they won’t forget, at next election time, and the next election after that too, who voted for the RLCs and especially the ones who campaigned against the RLCs then flip-flopped, after they got elected, if that happens!!!

  8. I think there is suppose to be a motion made to discuss a subject, with a second motion made, in order to open up a discussion about something at the council, but hey, what do I know?…….as I have seen things discussed at various council meetings, without a motion made, and a second motion offered, in order to discuss something coming up to vote on.

  9. What drives people crazy about the red light camera for-profit racket is 1) the fact that the Florida Department of Transportation refuses to allow cities to set the correct length yellows for the ACTUAL approach speeds of the cars. This has been forbidden since the rules change in September and 2) the Report to Congress by NHTSA showed that right on red turns – with or WITHOUT a full stop – were involved in only six one hundredths of one percent (0.06% or 0.0006) of crashes with injuries or fatalities. So most people are now aware that the vast majority of tickets go to safe drivers who 1) were snared with a short yellow scam or 2) endangered no one making a slow rolling right on red turn.

    Involving for profit camera companies in any form of traffic enforcement absolutely guarantees that the true focus will be profits – not safety – and the public is tired of getting robbed.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  10. The cameras are going to be out of here as a result of the 5 – 0 vote tonight and Richard Anderson will have to take the lobbying for ATS to some other municipality!!!!

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