FLORIDA — Driving through a red light in one of Florida’s 15 counties still operating surveillance cameras may make a bad day worse. If police officers reviewing footage captured by the camera presumes that you ran the light, you could be on the hook for a steep fine.
Red light surveillance cameras have lost favor across many areas of Florida and the nation. Still, counties like Hillsborough and Miami-Dade continue using the cameras, allegedly to curb dangerous driving and crashes. But could these cameras be part of a scheme to generate money?
MILLIONS IN PROFIT
In Tampa, 56 surveillance cameras captured 100,600 red-light runners last year. More than $10 million in ticket revenue was split between the city, the state and the camera vendor. Since the program started in Tampa in 2011, more than $84 million in revenue has been generated, according to public records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas deployed 79 cameras watching drivers at intersections spread throughout the tri-county area. Transportation officials, police departments and the company that makes the cameras say the technology keeps drivers safer on the roads.
“The reason for their existence is to improve safety at intersections,” Vik Bhide, Tampa’s director of mobility, told The Tampa Bay Times. Bhide said cameras are part of a broad strategy that harnesses technology to make the roads safer.
At $158 per ticket, the City of Tampa made $3.2 million in profit last year after paying $1.8 million to Verra Mobility, a Mesa, Arizona-based technology company that manufactures and operates surveillance cameras. Florida’s Department of Revenue received $5.4 million.
Florida has no statewide oversight of surveillance camera programs. Municipalities are merely asked to complete a self-reported survey each year for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Red-light enforcement tactics have declined across the state because of the backlash from local residents and political figures, who say the efforts are all about revenue rather than safety.
Former Senate Transportation Chair Jeff Brandes (R-St. Pete) called the cameras a “backdoor tax increase” when he filed legislation to ban them in 2012. Brandes helped launch a grassroots effort to help Floridians contest what he called “highly dubious” tickets.
In 2014, officials in St. Petersburg voted to end its program even though Mayor Rick Kriseman, a red-light camera advocate, said the program helped change behavior at the time. Last May, the Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted not to renew their contract after a decade of using the cameras.