9 Investigates: Palm Bay drops red-light cameras

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PALM BAY, Fla. - On Sunday night, the city of Palm Bay shut off its red-light cameras.  The city’s contract with Gatso was not renewed, and as a result the cameras watching over three of the city’s intersections will no longer be snapping photos and sending drivers $158 violations.

“This has been an issue I have been fighting against since we put them in,” said Palm Bay councilwoman Kristine Isnardi.  “There was no benefit collision-wise or accident-wise.”

At its peak, Palm Bay collected fines for 2,459 red light violations, sending more than $200,000 to the state.  But city leaders said the cameras, which were sold as a safety device, were instead used as a revenue tool. 

Additionally, a February report by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found mixed results for red-light cameras when it came to safety.  In the report, OPPAGA found that fatal crashes were down 49 percent but that total crashes were up 12 percent.

“Keeping them in place under the false premise of safety is wrong,” said Isnardi.

The state of Florida receives $83 for every red-light ticket paid.  Of the $83 paid to the state, $10 is sent to the Health Administrative Trust Fund, $3 is paid into the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund, and the remaining $70 goes directly into Florida’s general revenue. 

After the state is paid, the camera company is paid, on average, $4,600 per camera per month.  The remainder of the fine is returned to the city. 

Opponents of the cameras point out that the majority of the fine paid by local drivers is sent either to Tallahassee or out-of-state to the camera companies, with only a small portion of the total collected retained by the city.

“No, it’s not fair to pay their bills off of red lights,” said Palm Bay resident Joseph Guarino.  “It’s bad enough we have to pay what we have to pay. They keep squeezing us and squeezing us.”

Palm Bay’s decision mirrors decisions made by city leaders in St. Petersburg and Cocoa Beach, where plans are already underway to remove cameras. 

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number of cities using red-light cameras reached its peak nationally at 540 in 2012 but has fallen to 508 since then. 

Florida lawmakers had proposed changes to the system. However, S.B. 144 remains stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee.  The bill, filed by Sen.  Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would have required that any new cameras installed in the state be placed at intersections where a traffic study had been conducted justifying their installation. 

In addition, the bill would have required that money from the citations paid by drivers as a result of the cameras be used for traffic safety.