The coming debate: Red light cameras in Apopka

The coming debate: Red light cameras in Apopka

Analysis

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

A debate is coming, and the fate of the Red Light Camera program in Apopka might be decided by the outcome.

At the June 7th City Council meeting, four items sat innocently on the Consent Agenda. (For those of you not familiar with a Consent Agenda, in general, it’s a Board or City Council meeting practice which packages routine non-controversial items not requiring discussion or independent action as one agenda item.

The fourth item on the Consent Agenda, however, was a five-year contract to renew the Red Light Camera program in Apopka. And that caught the eye of Commissioner Kyle Becker.

“When we got the lead-in package on Friday there wasn’t much there in the way of statistics about our program itself,” Becker said during the discussion. So I would ask for a little latitude because I have about a dozen questions I want to ask. Quite honestly I’m surprised it’s a Consent Agenda item, being that it’s a total contract value of $5.4 million over five years.”

Becker asked a question of the City staff that ultimately Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley would answer about traffic violations.

“It’s been described that there’s been a 37% decrease in violations since the (program’s) inception. But if I reference our City’s CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), in the statistics section, that’s wildly different than the story I’m seeing. We had 31,773 in 2016, and in 2011 we had 16,000.”

“I’m not sure where you got those numbers from,” said McKinley.

The discrepancy between the City’s CAFR figures and the data that the APD continued to frustrate the discussion between Becker and McKinley until Mayor Joe Kilsheimer asked Becker to let McKinley catch up to his questioning. But Becker explained that his questioning was due to a lack of information in the lead-in packet provided by City staff.

“I made an ask that I need a certain amount of data to make a good decision on this topic. We did not have any information as part of the lead-in packet on Friday. We met over a month ago on this topic, and I made it crystal clear on the data I would need to support a rational decision on my part. So that’s why I asked for latitude.”

The discussion returned to violations and crashes, which caused a disagreement between Becker and McKinley on the statistics being cited.

“If I use the CAFR as my guide, violations have gone up 9,000 since 2011,” said Becker. “Our crashes are up since that time period. I’m wondering what the benefit of the program is?”

“Well I’m not agreeing with your numbers,” said McKinley. “My numbers are different. But I promise you Commissioner (Becker), we’re not trying to mislead you with our data.”

The tense discussion concluded with a motion to pull the item off the Consent Agenda.

Becker released a statement after the meeting that explained his  frustration with the Red Light Camera issue:

“First, I would like to say I have the utmost respect for the job Chief McKinley does for our city and our residents, our police department is second to none, and that is achieved through his hard work and the great work of all of our officers.

I think there was a little tension related to this issue due to a disconnect in the data provided by staff, and the data I was forced to research myself. I have been very transparent in the type of data I would need to make a decision on this topic and gave ample lead time to produce, and as you saw, data was fluid even during the conversation, and did not sync with our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Since we will again vote on this matter, I won’t get into my stance on whether I am for or against, but rather, I question what the true intent is with the renewal of this program. My assumption is that the true intent is to reduce crashes and pedestrian incidents at intersections, however, leading up to the meeting, the statistics provided by staff was that even at intersections with cameras the crash rate was up 12.5%, though this statistic was updated during the course of my questioning.

As I stated when I campaigned for this seat, I am not interested in the camera program as a revenue source for our city, and if there is compelling data to support it reduces crashes, then show it. We have had this program in place for 10 years now, we should have 10 years worth of referenceable data either internally or provided by the service provider ATS.

In regards to right turns and pedestrian safety, in my research with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, intersection incidents with pedestrians make up a small percentage of total pedestrian incidents, and as many residents can attest there is a lot of jaywalking in our city outside of our intersections. I think our city would be better served by the installation of proper street lighting to promote pedestrian safety, as 74% of pedestrian fatalities occur during nighttime hours.

For me to make a fact-based decision on this topic, I need to see the data, the trends, and the financial impact of this program. If a benefit of the program is a decrease in violations, but crashes are increasing, is there truly a benefit? If violations decrease to the point the program then takes a loss financially, does the safety impact and the potential to reduce crashes then make it worth the investment from a public safety standpoint? These are all questions and conversations that need to take place, not anecdotally, but rather data-driven.”

Despite the tension during the meeting, neither McKinley nor APD Captain Randall Fernandez seemed to be put off by Becker’s questions.

“Commissioner Becker is a detail oriented person, just as I am, and I certainly appreciate his level of interest,” said Fernandez. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to ensure we find common ground and understanding of our law enforcement programs.”

“He’s passionate about this topic, and we respect his passion,” said McKinley. “I don’t think it’s anything we can’t sit down and discuss with him.”

The June 7th City Council meeting made clear the debate lines, but at the June 21st City Council meeting, perhaps there will be resolve on this matter. Will the Council renew the contract with ATS for another five years? Or will they end red light cameras?

One thing is for certain; you won’t find this issue on the Consent Agenda.

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8 Comments

  1. Jerel Safford

    Commissioner Becker,

    I appreciate your hard work in finding the truth of the Matter in regards to the Red Light cameras. I believe this is a delicate subject as to if the cameras are really leading to decreases in accidents as well as incidents. Looking at your numbers, crashes are up as well as violations so how is the program helping? I would ask that you keep your best foot on the pedal and whatever the facts are, support them.

    Thanks

    Reply
  2. Linvol Henry

    Commissioner Becker, I appreciate your hard work and passion. These cameras are a nuisance than anything else. I recall Mayor Kilsheimer also promised to remove the enforced cameras as one of his talking points when he was running for Mayor. He claimed at the time the cameras were preventing people from wanting to drive through the City of Apopka. Since he been elected it appears it became a dead issue. Press on with your hard work. Am sure you will have many support.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Cain

    Funny how the contract was placed so that it could be voted on without discussion. Is someone trying to hide an unpopular subject so that it can slide through quietly.

    Reply
  4. Joel Wilson

    I think that not only should we keep them but add them at Any busy intersection and school zones for morning and afternoon activities and in subdivisions for speed control to protect our children. Speeders are rampant!!

    Reply
  5. James C Walker

    Red light cameras have increased the crash rates all over Florida. They are a for-profit money-grab racket that no one should tolerate for even one more nano-second anywhere in Florida.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    Reply
  6. Joe Roegner

    Hello !
    What concerns me is that cities often pay a fee to have the cameras installed and if the revenue is not what is expected then there is a fee to remove them depending on the contract. The idea that traffic cameras would reduce accidents was the talking point to get this camel’s nose under the tent when it was all about generating more revenue from petty fines when local governments where facing a revenue crisis during the great recession. We understand that the timing of traffic light signal changes were often reduced when cameras were installed so as to catch more unwary people. From what I am seeing in Apopka is an attempt to generate revenue from Apopka citizens with public-private partnerships that sell their questionable services to Cities when they are trying to find new revenue sources.
    . Every few months I get a letter with Apopka’s logo on it from a third party selling insurance on my water and sewage lines. The first letter was robosigned by the Mayor. Why is a private firm even allowed to send mail with the City’s logo on it ?
    The recent brouhaha about issuing fines for parking in the streets in front of your house is another case. We can understand the concern about traffic problems in some neighborhoods from parked cars but the issue has been driven by petty homeowners associations and a few folks that have not much else to do with their time. Mind you that many HOAs prohibit parking on the grass in a front lawn and now they want to stop you from parking in the street.
    . On the radio I hear messages from the City advising us on what is to be recycled and what is not. Years ago almost all plastics were wanted for recycling but the market has fallen for some of those materials and recycling centers only want the easy to sell materials now. Who is paying for all this radio time ? Consider that Waste Management offered the City over a million dollars to allow household waste to be dumped in a landfill near Apopka homes that posed a serious odor problem for local residents within a 6-10 mile radius that would have sharply reduced property values. After a bit of fuss the City sent back the offered money.
    One would suspect that perhaps City Officials think residents can’t connect the dots. I think we have made some progress from the good old boy system of a few years ago but City Hall will have to do a better job of protecting the best interests of the citizens of Apopka from getting screwed over going forward.

    Reply
  7. Dave

    The City of Apopka should lead the way in Florida and remove all Redlight Cameras.

    After 10yrs, The facts are in:
    1 Redlight Cameras do NOT stop redlight running. Every ticket proves it.
    2 ATS and Politicians are making money off this charade. Look at campaign contributions. That’s why Joe had it on the consent agenda………..
    3 Being against Redlight Cameras does NOT mean that person is FOR Redlight running.
    4 After 10yrs, ATS wants to renew the contract for 5+Million, with an 18 month cancellation penalty. Till Dec 2018??? Why?
    5 Intersections with cameras have seen an increase in accidents, acceleration through the intersection, and panic braking.
    6 80% of revenue comes from right turns on red not running through the intersection.
    9. Budget reports do NOT include the cost of the APD officer reviewing tapes, and magistrate expense to hear appeals.
    10. Apopka is signing a contract for over 100,000 per MONTH in fixed costs (4250X24=$102,000) whether a ticket is written or not.

    The list goes on and on. If it is about safety, use the 100k per month to hire officers. The City of Apopka has multiple images of a drunk driver running through intersections getting tickets before crashing at 441 and 451. If there was an officer there instead, the driver would have been pulled over after 1 intersection. Thank God no one was killed. End the charade, or come election time it will be OUT WITH THE OLD 3 AND IN WITH THE NEW 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply

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