Debate continues over red light cameras on the Suncoast

Red Light Cameras

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Just when you thought you got away with running a red light, think again. In the city of Sarasota and in Manatee County chances are it was all caught by one of the many red light cameras.

“Currently we have 10 active cameras and hopefully within the next year we just got approved for eight more,” said Captain Stan Schaeffer with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Sarasota Police say they also have 10 intersections with red light cameras, and have had them for around six years, just like Manatee County.

“For the first four years we tracked statistical data on that, we had an overall drop in crashes and tickets in those intersections," said Sergeant Bryan Graham with the Sarasota Police Department. "After four years we stopped doing the statistical data because the state no longer required it.”

As for the number of motorists being caught, Sarasota is seeing higher numbers than Manatee.

“We usually have about 2,000 a month, last year’s reporting for the state of Florida we were just under 25,000 for the year,” said Graham.

The rule most authorities follow when viewing the red light camera pictures is if a car is clearly behind the big white stop line at an intersection when a light turns red, but keeps going, the driver can expect to be receiving some unwanted mail in the form of a citation.

Leslie Armstrong lives near 14th Street West and 53rd Avenue West in Bradenton. It’s an intersection that has experienced its fair share of crashes, and it’s a location that has a red light camera.

“In theory it would help that red light cameras prevent people from breaking stop signal laws," said Armstrong. "Just like anybody else, what I don’t like is the ‘Big Brother’ aspect of things, that somebody is always watching.”

Others are in full support of red light cameras.

“As far as safety goes I think it’s a good idea, I think it’s probably gonna deter somebody from running the red light,” said Malissa, a supporter of red light cameras.

“If there was a police officer sitting on the corner, he would get you for the same violation, so I just look at it as a virtual cop,” said Angela Hill, a Bradenton resident.

But many cities across the state including Bradenton have decided to stop using the cameras. Bradenton’s City Administrator Carl Callahan says it’s because of the uncertainty of the camera’s future at the state level.

“The bulk of the issue was that when we were making that decision, the state legislature was really pushing and pulling as to which way they wanted to go with legislation," said Callahan. "If it looked like they wanted to try to outlaw it completely then we didn’t want to buck that.”

Aside from the uncertain legislation the state keeps throwing back and forth, there is the argument that municipalities are just looking for the money coming in from the ticketing.

“We’re not focusing on the money aspect," said Schaeffer. "The money doesn’t come to the sheriff’s office, it goes to the county and it goes to the administration of the cameras, the company that runs the cameras.”

Cities and counties say safety is the motivating factor. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report from 2017 to 2018 the city of Sarasota saw a nearly 25 percent drop in crashes at intersections where red light cameras were present. For that same time period in Manatee County though there was a four percent increase in crashes. But whether or not the cameras are doing its job, is still up for debate.

According to local law enforcement, the red light cameras aren’t just catching red light runners, the video also helps with investigating hit and run crashes and other crimes that happen in or near these intersections. Red light camera violations cost $158 and you don’t get any points on your license.

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