Traffic cameras have been around for quite some time. In fact, back in 1991, a murderer used a traffic camera speeding ticket as an apparent airtight alibi on one of my favorite episodes of “Columbo,” the long-running detective series starring the late Peter Falk.
In “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” a high-powered attorney kills his lover, but is photographed behind the wheel of his speeding car by a traffic camera at the same time the murder takes place.
Detectives take note, lest some criminal try the same trick again once traffic cameras are installed in Walton Hills and perhaps elsewhere in the area.
But instead of me giving away the murderer’s secret, do you mind if I my favorite detective takes over?
Scruffy man in a brown raincoat walks in, smoking a cigar ...
Did you know a lot of people thought traffic cameras had been outlawed in Ohio? Did you?
Myself, I don’t have an opinion on them, but they seem to have caused a lot of trouble. I mean, you’re just driving along, minding your own business and all of a sudden — there it is — a traffic ticket in the mail.
Who would have thought?
Well, I don’t have to tell you these traffic cameras make people angry. Back in 2015, the state legislature made this law that pretty much ruined traffic cameras for all these little towns and cities that had them. They said a police officer has to be there any time they were turned on and issuing tickets.
There were some other requirements I can’t remember right now, but the cop requirement — that was a tough one to get over.
After all, the whole purpose of these things is so you don’t have to pay a police officer to sit there by the side of the road all day — right? If you gotta have a cop there, why bother with the camera?
What if I told you the Ohio Supreme Court last July ruled the law was unconstitutional? They said it restricted home rule rights and didn’t serve an overriding state interest — something like that.
Former Justice William O’Neil — he’s a character — he didn’t agree with the rest of the court. The way he put it, the state says stop signs are red and cops ought to be there with traffic cameras, but the court says it doesn’t matter. So, O’Neil says if Toledo can have traffic cameras, they ought to be allowed to have blue stop signs too.
Who ever heard of a blue stop sign? That’s crazy, but it doesn’t matter, because as far as traffic cameras go, it’s back to Square One.
You still with me? Can I tell you just one little thing?
Since police officers don’t have to watch the cameras any more, Walton Hills is is going to put them on Alexander, Dunham, Egbert, Sagamore and Walton roads.
There’s no way they could have paid five police officers 24/7 to watch cameras on those roads. But can you blame them? They say 40 percent of the people driving on those roads are doing at least 50 mph.
The speed limit there is 35 mph. That’s a big problem, don’t you think?
Kevin Hurst, he’s the mayor of Walton Hills, he said they gotta do something, so they got this company, GATSO USA, and this company is going to be putting up these traffic cameras on those five roads. They’re supposed to be ready to go April 1.
Another thing — this will only take a minute — did you know that this GATSO company also has traffic cameras in Iowa? They say these cameras cut down crashes in Cedar Rapids during the terrible winter storms they get there. They said there were only eight crashes in 2010-11 when it had been 67 crashes just a few years before.
That’s pretty impressive, right?
But remember how people get really mad when they’re stopped for speeding? Just think how mad they get when the ticket comes in the mail. I wouldn’t want to be there when they open that envelope, believe me! Some got so mad they’re taking their $75 tickets all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Son of a gun!
They’re saying there’s lack of due process, the cameras aren’t that accurate and they don’t trust GATSO being the same company that makes the machines work and collects the tickets.
Just one more thing.
There’s this little town in Ohio called New Miami that was using traffic cameras a few years ago, but had to stop.
Some county judge there ordered that little town to pay back more than $3 million in tickets they got with traffic cameras. He agreed with some of the people who complained they didn’t get due process. Something about it cost more to file an appeal in municipal court than the actual cost of the ticket.
But don’t ask me to explain it, I’m just a lieutenant. All I know is they’re still fighting that case in court.
I tell you, these traffic cameras can cause some real problems.
What did you say? How did the rock star murderer kill his mistress at the same time he got a speeding ticket?
He had his secretary drive his car while wearing a mask.
I looked at all the other pictures of the drivers who got tickets that afternoon. They all had a shadow under their noses. His picture didn’t have a shadow because it was a mask.
These traffic cameras, I tell you, they’re not what they seem.
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.