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Florida: City Considers Cameras as Ticket Quota Alternative
For Tampa, Florida officials, red light cameras represent a better financial bargain than ticket quotas.

Councilman Curtis Stokes
The Tampa, Florida city council tomorrow will consider adopting a contract granting American Traffic Solutions (ATS) the right to issue $158 tickets at intersections. At a meeting last month, half of the council's members supported installation while the other half opposed -- forcing the idea to be reconsidered at the upcoming meeting where a member absent from the last meeting is expected to cast the deciding vote. Opponents suggested the cameras had little to do with safety.

"I'm still trying to get my arms around the idea that this is a money-making (venture to) help bring in revenues for the police officers," Councilman Curtis Stokes said. "Again it's on the backs of 40 percent of those addresses you gave are minority neighborhoods, and I can't support cameras when it's an extra tax."

Tampa officials desperately need new sources of revenue to make up for losses in property tax from the housing market's collapse. The city faces a $20 million deficit, and automated ticketing machines represent a far better deal for the municipal coffers than officer-generated traffic tickets which are, in their own way, a source of financial pressure on the city. According to a Tampa Police Department email, officers were expected to meet an average number of tickets issued -- "144 yearly, 48 quarterly, 12 monthly," Lieutenant Michael Baumaister explained in August 2005.

Officers who issued these tickets would then attend traffic court, frequently while off-duty to generate overtime pay that usually amounts to between $72 and $130 per hearing, while the city's share of each ticket is frequently as little as $20 to $25 -- when the tickets are actually paid. In 2009, Tampa police wrote 24,644 speeding tickets. Of these, only 28 percent were actually paid in full. Judges withheld judgment, cut deals or dismissed the rest. Yet costs have skyrocketed.

In 2004, Tampa's former mayor successfully lobbied for a state law that allowed overtime to be part of the calculation of an officer's salary when determining pension benefits. That means an officer near retirement might be paid for attending one ticket hearing year-after-year for more the rest of his life. This benefit comes on top of a 1999 law that funded pensions from each traffic ticket issued that caused a driver's insurance rates to rise.

"It's a tax on the increase of the premium," then-Tampa Police Chief Stephen Hogue said in a 2005 deposition. "My understanding of it is that it's based on the premiums that are written in a jurisdiction..."

After the insurance funding mechanism was enacted in 1999, the number of tickets issued skyrocketed. Contributions that averaged a steady $2.2 million a year from 1997 through 1999 jumped to a high of $3.5 million in 2006.

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