Police chief 'open minded' to speed cameras, parking meters
Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart says he is "open minded" about recent recommendations from the Bexley Alternative Revenue Task Force.
In an effort to help bolster the city's revenues, task force members recently suggested the city consider installing speed cameras on College Avenue and parking meters in the Main Street business district.
"I was against it (speed cameras) originally," he said. "But I have talked to the mayor and learned more about it since then. I'm open minded about it now."
Rinehart, who says the city's police force is already stretched to its limits, was concerned not only about staffing levels but also residents' perceptions about traffic cameras being used to issue speeding citations.
Rinehart said there are currently no municipalities in central Ohio using speed cameras. The city of Heath, east of Columbus in Licking County, and Chillicothe, south of Columbus in Ross County, tried using speed cameras but abandoned the idea after protests from local residents.
Columbus utilizes traffic cameras to issue citations for running red lights, but they do not measure a vehicle's speed.
"With all due respect to the members of the Alternative Revenue Task Force and to the members of our City Council, I do have mixed emotions about the introduction of speed cameras in Bexley," Rinehart said. "Some communities have experienced significant opposition to speed cameras, especially when it is perceived that the primary purpose is to enhance revenue."
In his initial reaction to the task force recommendations, Mayor Ben Kessler said the emphasis on speed cameras would be safety, not revenue generation, although preliminary estimates are that the cameras would bring in as much as $750,000 annually. Kessler said City Council will thoroughly investigate the speed camera issue and seek public input before any decision is made.
"I think we need to make certain we are talking about speed cameras in the context of solving safety issues that current police staffing can't solve," Rinehart said. "I agree, many drivers speed through our city every day. Our police officers write many speeding citations, but we do not have the staffing to stop and interact with even the majority of our daily speeders. I realize that some communities have implemented speed cameras and are very pleased with the results."
Rinehart said his secondary concern was how to meet the increased staffing requirements of all the citations issued by speed cameras.
"There will be significant staffing requirements for our Mayor's Court where people come to contest the citations. And there is also the issue of addressing the arrest warrants issued to the percentage of drivers who do not pay the citation or come to Mayors Court to contest the citation," he said. "History shows that a percentage of drivers simply ignore the speed camera citation."
Rinehart said one potential advantage of speed cameras is that officers would often be freed from some routine traffic enforcement in order to conduct more pro-active neighborhood patrols.
"If it becomes City Council's and the mayor's will to move forward with the implementation of speed cameras in our city, I will work with the mayor to overcome any operational obstacle," he said.
Rinehart said Main Street parking meters might be a solution to some parking problems.
"But our parking control officer position was eliminated in our 2012 budget," he said. "That leaves police officers to park their patrol cars and monitor meters. If the city implements the parking meter recommendation, I hope we can consider adding a part-time meter monitor."