By: Sharon Aron Baron
The City of Tamarac will vote Wednesday to turn the cameras back on – at least to complete a contract with the red light camera vendor which ends in April.
In November 2012, the city entered into an agreement with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to provide cameras at 15 intersections in the city. The initial term was three years and four months with an option for two – two year renewals for a total of seven years and four months.
The first camera went live in October 2013 then less than two years later on May 27, 2015 the city commission directed the city attorney office to provide notice of termination of their contract with ATS. This was due to a decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeals which struck down red light cameras after motorist Eric Arem challenged the $158 ticket that ATS mailed to him on behalf of the city of Hollywood. Arem argued that the only role of a Hollywood police officer in the way the system works is to press a button to convict based on what ATS sends over. The judges found, upon reconsideration, that there was no authority in Florida law for a city to deputize a vendor to perform these law enforcement functions.
“Specifically this termination revolved around a Fourth Circuit Court decision called the Arem decision that essentially said that the way we were doing it, the way all the folks in Florida were doing it, operating the red light cameras – were doing it wrong, were in violation of State law,” said Financial Services Director Mark Mason.
Mason said that as part of the termination issues in the contract, ATS had a right to “cure” the issue. In other words, come up with a way to avoid the Arem issues and provide an option for the City to adopt those changes and move forth with the agreement.
He said that the reason they were discussing the cameras again was that ATS provided Assistant City Attorney Shana Bridgeman appropriate approaches that would allow them to essentially turn the cameras back on.
Two changes to the agreement are:
- All camera shots will be forwarded to and available for review by BSO. Previously only potential violations were forwarded and review.
- The City (BSO) will forward, download Uniform Traffic Citations (UTC) Hearing files directly to the Clerk of Court. Previously ATS downloaded the UTC files to the Clerk of Court.
Mason said these would be considered cures until the courts could review them again.
The City has issued 24,862 notices of violations between October 1, 2013 and May 27, 2015 with a total of 225,000 camera shots.
City Staff recommended to the commission that they restart the program based upon the change in processes and agreement – at least through the end of the contract with ATS.
But the City’s legal woes aren’t over and they face a class action lawsuit that is being heard in the Southern District of Florida said Bridgeman. The City has filed a motion to dismiss it, because in part they say their program is different from the Arem case. The judge dismissed some of the counts, however, other counts still remain alive.
“The most important thing to remember is all of these individuals who are appealing, or have gone to trial, or are complaining, that they have gotten red light tickets, they all have violated the law,” said Bridgeman. “So it doesn’t matter whether someone from ATS pressed the button to electronically transmit something to the clerk, or whether BSO presses a button, all these people are guilty.”
“Well, technically they’re not…because they haven’t been adjudicated guilty, isn’t that correct, counselor?”
“Technically,” answered City Attorney Sam Gorin.
“There’s a difference between innocence and guilt and these people are guilty of violating the law,” insisted Bridgeman. “They may be found not guilty due to a technicality, but they’re all guilty of violating the law.”
“That is an opinion. You could argue that is unsustainable.”
Two BSO officers will be reviewing all camera shots starting as soon as Wednesday after the commission vote.
Other cities will be joining Tamarac in restarting their red light camera programs including Davie, Sunrise and Palm Beach. Several cities are either looking into it, or they have abandoned the program as their contracts were close to expiring or had expired.