Surveillance systems warrant careful research

At least two Columbiana County villages are considering speed-monitoring surveillance systems as a cost-efficient way to address the problem of motorists racing through their communities.

Rogers and Salineville village councils are looking at contracting with Maryland-based Optotraffic LLC, which manufactures and operates automated speed-enforcement machines that catch speeding motorists, using laser radar and cameras.

Both financially strapped villages are looking for ways to solve speeding problems in their towns while neither is able to increase their police presence. In Rogers’ case, there has been no policeman for quite some time and council voted at last week’s meeting to eliminate the police department and mayor’s court, altogether.

In Rogers and Salineville both, Optotraffic would operate and maintain the $80,000 machines and issue the speeding citations in return for 40 percent of the fine money. The only expense to the communities would be in hiring a law enforcement officer to review the citation information and an attorney to conduct the administrative hearings for motorists who want to contest the citation. Furthermore, if the accused speeder then contests the ruling of the hearing officer, the case continues to county municipal court where the village must pay a county prosecutor to prosecute the case. Optotraffic would notify motorists by mail that they had been cited.

While we understand both communities’ need to address the problem of motorists speeding through their towns without increasing costs and they both probably see this fine revenue as a potential cash cow, we hope their village councils will do their homework and give this proposal a lot of consideration before jumping in feet first.

Just last week, a Hamilton County, Ohio judge ruled that the village ordinance that allowed Elmwood Place to install speed cameras is unenforceable and violates motorists’ due process.

Judge Robert Ruehlman granted a permanent injunction and prohibited further use of the cameras and called the village’s traffic camera system a game that Optotraffic, has a financial stake in.

“I used the term ‘game’ because Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-Card Monty,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “It is a scam that the motorists can’t win. The entire case against the motorist is stacked because the speed monitoring device is calibrated and controlled by Optotraffic.” Ruehlman wrote in the ruling.

Rogers Village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli warned council to prepare for the public backlash. “People will get angry over this and will appeal it on principle,” she said.

If that turns out to be true, this “automatic” revenue builder could end up costing more than it’s worth.

At Rogers’ meeting the Optotraffic representative, Dorian Grubaugh, dismissed the Elmwood court decision noting Optotraffic has survived other legal challenges and expects to win on appeal in the Elmwood case as well.

State legislators near Elmwood have also introduced a bill prohibiting the use of these systems, but Grubaugh said past efforts to pass a ban have failed. “We’re not concerned with the legislation. The legislation is proposed every year,” he said.

“Whatever the media wants to say is inaccurate. The goal is safety,” Grubaugh said. What the media says doesn’t matter, it’s what the judge says that does.

The officials of these villages would be better off reading up on the court decisions and pending legislation rather than listening to the advice of a salesman whose company stands to profit greatly from the installation of this system.