River Cities Gazette

Miami Springs council chambers now serving as courtroom for red light violaters

 
 
THE EVIDENCE: PIO Officer Jorge Capote shows the video of a red light violation to magistrate David Alschuler at last week’s monthly night court in Miami Springs City Hall.
THE EVIDENCE: PIO Officer Jorge Capote shows the video of a red light violation to magistrate David Alschuler at last week’s monthly night court in Miami Springs City Hall.
Gazette Photo/WALLY CLARK

River Cities Gazette

State guidelines resulting from red light cameras on the Miami Springs westbound side of Northwest 36th Street have resulted in having a night court in council chambers.

Scheduled for the third Thursday of every month from 5 p.m. until everyone is heard, drivers who received violation notices in the mail can opt for a hearing to plead their case before a magistrate.

When a driver is caught on camera running a red light at LeJeune Road (Northwest 42nd Avenue), Sheridan Drive or Curtiss Parkway along Northwest 36th Street, (there’s also a camera at eastbound South River Drive), the video is viewed by Miami Springs Police and if parameters fit the infraction, the vehicle’s owner gets a notice via mail. The recipient and/or driver can then go online and view a video and still photo of the violation.

Most violators opt to pay the $158 fine and avoid further action. However, those who disagree may go to Miami-Dade County Court or night court at Miami Springs City Hall for a hearing. If they decide to pay then, the fine is $208. However, if the violator asks for a full hearing, the video is played and the magistrate makes a ruling. If the violator is found guilty, a $250 administration fee is added and the fine goes up to $408.

To follow state guidelines for holding court, MSPD used Law Enforcement Trust Fund money to purchase a walk-thru metal detector, hand-held metal detector, laptops and a large-screen TV to show videos at court.

The once a month process is staffed by an officer at the front door to City Hall to operate the security system, a testifying officer to operate the laptop to show videos, a civilian clerk, an officer acting as a bailiff, certified English/Spanish translator and a magistrate. All positions are rotated using different personnel.

Last week, Motorcycle Officer Jeff Collins handled front-door security, PIO Officer Jorge Capote was the testifying officer, PIO administrative assistant Grace Vazquez was clerk, Officer Jeff Clark was bailiff, Miriam Gonzalez translated and Miami Beach Attorney David Alschuler was magistrate.

Ten alleged violators are scheduled for a regular court session but last week only five people appeared to contest their tickets. Two were women and three were men.

Up first was a grandmotherly senior citizen who didn’t speak English. Even with the help of the translator, she didn’t seem to comprehend the ramification of her choices. She could have plead guilty and been fined $208, however, she decided that she wanted a hearing.

Capote projected the video which clearly showed the woman making a left turn on red off Northwest 36th Street and onto Sheridan Drive. The video also recorded her speed as 16 miles per hour. Miami Springs Police have set speed parameters at 15 MPH. Meaning, if the woman had turned at 15 MPH or slower and hadn’t impeded traffic or pedestrians, she wouldn’t have been ticketed. In other cities, any turn on red without stopping is a violation.

The magistrate ruled guilty and tears flowed from the woman, who still didn’t seem to understand what happened except that she owed $408. The magistrate gave her 120 days to pay the fine.

The second woman also asked for a hearing and the video showed her violation. She was also fined $408. After that, two men opted to pay $208 without a hearing and the other man asked for a hearing. Since the video showed his speed at 14 MPH while turning on red, his case was dismissed. He was ecstatic.

Since becoming operational in January 2012, the red light cameras have become a successful revenue generator for the city. So far this year, monthly citations have ranged from 600 – 700.

“When we first started this, there were about 1,000 violators per month,” said PIO Sgt. Jimmy Deal. “But we’ve seen a steady decline in the numbers. That proves the system works.”

However, the current number is expected to radically drop but not because of the threat of a ticket. A massive construction project is getting underway that involves replacing the Northwest 36th Street bridge and repaving the busy thoroughfare all the way from Okeechobee Road to Northwest 74th Avenue. The project will take an estimated 400 days and cause a disruption of the red light camera system and traffic detours will be horrendous.

“Northwest 36th Street and 42nd Avenue is a 13-lane intersection,” said Officer Capote, “so we have a lot of violators there. Violators have 60-days to decide how they want to handle it. Every option is explained on the citation and online and if they don’t pay, they won’t be able to get a tag or new decal. However, I do feel sorry for some people, especially the woman who cried.”

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