A Florida law which went into effect on July 1 mandated changes in the way Miami Springs handles people captured by cameras running red lights on Northwest 36th Street. The new law affects all cities using the red light camera system.
Miami Springs’ system went into effect on Jan. 12, 2012 with cameras covering five intersections on Northwest 36th Street: westbound and southbound at LeJeune Road (Northwest 42nd Avenue); westbound at Sheridan Drive; eastbound at South River Drive; and westbound at Curtiss Parkway. The eastbound Northwest 36th Street lanes are in Miami-Dade County’s jurisdiction.
The new legislation created another option for ticketed drivers, allowing for a hearing at the local level.
“Now violators can pay a fine of $158, or choose to have a hearing at the local level, or the vehicle’s owner can fill out a notarized affidavit with information on who was driving the vehicle, submit it and then that person is notified of the violation,” said Sgt. Jimmy Deal, who oversees the program.
Since the program began, 17,847 tickets have been issued out of 24,726 possible violators, meaning not everyone captured on video is cited. A Miami Springs police officer carefully peruses each video to ensure that every violation is clear cut. If there’s an increment of doubt, no citation is issued.
Alleged violators can go online to www.mspd.us, enter a pin number from the violation, view a video and see still photos of their infraction. Information is also provided as to their options, including paying a fine.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Arizona provides the cameras that produce videos and still images of possible violations. Miami Springs pays $4,750 per month for each camera. The images go directly to ATS via Internet for review, title search information and to see if the violations fit the state’s criteria and Miami Springs’ criteria.
The information is then sent to MSPD via Internet for further review. Approved violations are then returned to ATS, where citations are mailed to vehicle owners. Violators have 60 days to take care of the citation before the vehicle owners are reported to Miami-Dade County. If not paid, citations then cost $277 and require a county court appearance. If that’s not fulfilled, licenses are suspended.
To comply with the new law, Miami Spring has to set up a court system. Public hearings will be held in City Hall chambers one evening a week for four hours and will be able to handle 40 cases a session.
Equipment required will be a large-screen TV, three laptop computers, a walk-through metal detector at the entrance to City Hall and a hand-held metal detector. Equipment cost will be paid from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund. Hearings will start in mid-September.
Hearings will be staffed by a magistrate, clerk, two security police officers and the testifying officer. Equipment cost is estimated at $5,702 and manpower at $1,480.
The city’s outlay is acceptable because, in addition to the $158 violation fee, there will be an additional $250 administrative fee if a person is found guilty. And it’s difficult to refute video evidence and still photos that capture extremely sharp close-ups of tag numbers.
The red light camera system already has proven to be a qualified success since after fees and expenses, the city has netted a little less than $1 million, which went into the general fund.
“The vast majority of violators are not from Miami Springs and Virginia Gardens,” said Deal. “Less than 10 percent are locals.”
Although cameras also detect speed, police can do nothing to drivers who race up to 80 mph in a 40 mph zone to beat a light.
“ATS has the technology of speed cameras and it’s available, but it hasn’t been accepted yet in Florida,” said Deal.
Different intersections generate different numbers of violators, according to Deal. The most straight-through violations occur at Sheridan Drive.
“It has two, three times more than any other intersection, by far,” said Deal. “Southbound LeJeune has a lot but most are right-turn-on-red violations.”
The LeJeune camera captured a night accident caused by a driver who fell asleep and ran the light; however, there were no serious injuries. Also notable was that no one stopped to render aid.
Some videos captured frightening near-misses that are excruciatingly cringe-worthy. In particular is a local driver who has been frequently caught on camera.
“One Springs driver has been caught running red lights eight times in the past year, some at the same intersection,” said Deal. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”