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Collections agents press traffic ticket holders for payment while the Ohio Supreme Court reviews red-light cases from across the state.
East Cleveland is not giving up its red-light camera enforcement program without a fight, even though the policy is very likely illegal in Ohio.
The city has been issuing traffic tickets based on red-light camera photos alone. But the city is not supposed to do that, critics say, because Ohio law holds that a police officer has to be present at an intersection when a violation occurs, camera or no camera, in order for municipalities to issue tickets.
The city has 14 operational enforcement cameras at intersections. It’s also dead broke. The City Council, wrestling with insolvency for the last two years, has been exploring financial options that include filing for bankruptcy and an annexation plan in which East Cleveland as an official entity would dissolve into the city of Cleveland.
Cleveland-area news stations have staked out officer-free street corners and documented snapping red-light cameras. They’ve talked to residents who refuse to pay the tickets. They’ve also reported the defiant responses of city officials.
"When you run a red light or speed through a school zone, you are breaking the law" East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King told a WEWS-TV reporter.
But what would he say to residents who believe East Cleveland is breaking the law?
"You know what I would say is that I've never gotten a red-light camera ticket. Why? I stop at red lights," King said.
East Cleveland Law Director Willa Hemmons said the legal case against East Cleveland’s camera policy is not so cut and dry.
The state Supreme Court is currently reviewing the law, the news station reported.
Two appeals courts have found that state law infringed on East Cleveland’s governing rights.
Another court ruled in favor of the state. As Henmons points out, the appeals court with jurisdiction over Cuyahoga County, home to East Cleveland, hasn't yet heard a red-light camera case.
"We are in Cuyahoga County ... So we are taking advantage of the fact that there is a conflict in the jurisdictions" said Hemmons.
That’s certainly true. The city recently re-upped its contract with a national debt collections agency to wring payment from red-light-camera-caught traffic signal violators.
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Boulder, Colorado.
(Photo by gedexter / Flickr via CC BY-SA 2.0)