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Without Evidence But Plenty of Cash, Palm Coast Approves 52 Spy Cameras, Up from 10

| August 22, 2012

Get used to them. Many more on the way. (© FlaglerLive)

It was another remarkable meeting of the Palm Coast City Council for how few critical questions council members asked about a matter impacting most residents, and how much the issue was either mischaracterized by the city’s own administration or how little the result rested on evidence. Yet in the end, the Palm Coast City Council approved having up to 52 red-light, spy-and-snap cameras at city intersections, up from the 10 that have been operating for the past several years.

Expect at least 36 of those cameras to be in place by year’s end, according to an official with American Traffic Solutions, the Tempe, Arizona-based private company that operates the cameras and pockets most of the money they generate, after the state has taken its cut.

It’s a money game. City Manager Jim Landon and some council members said the city would make very little money from the deal. That’s not true: the city would have made very little money had its stuck with the 10 cameras, or approved adding only a few. But the way it wrote the contract with ATS, the more cameras are installed, the more money the city makes, because the city is guaranteed $700 a month per camera. That means its revenue from the cameras by year’s end will be guaranteed to jump from a maximum of what would have been $7,000 a month (barely enough to cover the city’s costs) to $25,200, a substantial monthly revenue that, annualized, would yield the city just over $300,000. ATS is “studying” the installation of 16 more cameras, which the council also approved on Tuesday. Added to the mix, the city would then reap a $36,400 monthly windfall, or $437,000 a year.

Adding cameras is neither tied to crash data nor to need, but, at most, to a mix of perceptions that drivers are—in Mayor Jon Netts’s description—misbehaving, and of “push-pin” data that goes no further than the Palm Coast Fire department showing where its service calls are concentrated. Council member Frank Meeker asked specifically for the data that would support an expansion of the camera network.

“Do we have the data that matches up with all of the new locations justifying the need for these cameras? Have we seen that?” Meeker asked.

“Have we seen it? Council, no,” Netts said. “I have not. As you recall we asked staff to go back, consult with the sheriff’s department, fire department. To get their input, and this is the result of their input.”

But it was “anecdotal,” not evidence-based. Studies that combine traffic patterns and crash data and analysis and account for numerous variables to be reliably scientific, and therefore believable, are few and expensive: the city has no such studies. Indeed, the evidence on traffic cameras across the country is generally contradictory, making it easy to cherry-pick conclusions without seeing direct correlations between cameras and either improved safety or reduced crashes: Palm Coast’s own raw data of traffic incidents (which have not been analyzed beyond that point) at or near traffic intersections show incident declines at intersections with and without cameras, just as traffic citations have declined in the last several years. A correlation between cameras’ presence and reduced crashes would be tempting, but false. Landon conceded as much on Tuesday.

“The data correlation between the intersections itself and the data isn’t real good,” he said. “Our fire department did bring in an aerial that actually had a dot for every time they responded to a location, and what you’re seeing is many of those dots up there are where there were clusters.”

Landon then diverted the discussion to an unrelated matter: cameras allow law enforcement to determine whose fault an accident may have been, which has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with insurance claims or the assessment of fines and citations. “That’s the other part of the discussion,” Landon said.

Meeker wasn’t buying it. “I’m looking for the data that was used to come to this conclusion, and what I think you’re telling me you really don’t have it because the fire department’s data is computerized, it’s push-pins on a board.”

Council members had previously asked that the sheriff’s office generate more reliable crash data. That hasn’t been done. Landon said the fire department would generate such data, though Netts cautioned against both agencies ending up generating two sets of data. The fire department, of course, is neither equipped nor responsible for analyzing crash scenes and determining causes. Its paramedics treat patients at the scene and leave, leaving the rest of the work either to the sheriff’s office or to the Florida Highway Patrol. That was not talked about Tuesday. Another difficulty of generating cogent data: some crashes are investigated by the sheriff’s office, some crashes—and all of the more serious crashes—are investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol. Merging that data would require time and resources that neither side has. That, too, was not talked about Tuesday.

Despite those doubts, and despite acknowledging the “George Orwell” effect of the proliferation of cameras, Meeker joined Netts, Bill McGuire and Bill Lewis in approving the expansion. Only Jason DeLorenzo voted against.

The main attraction of the cameras for both the cash-strapped city and ATS is money. When the state approved a regulated system of spy-and-snap cameras, it ended a multiplicity of schemes such as Palm, Coast’s where cities were using cameras as cash cows, in part by circumventing state law. Palm Coast was cashing in on almost $1 million a year at the height of the scheme. When the state passed a law regulating the system, it allowed cities to continue the system, but it imposed uniform fines, regulations and restrictions. The fines would be set at $158. The state would automatically get $78 of that, leaving it to cities to figure out how they’d split the remaining cash between themselves and the companies running the cameras.

In Palm Coast, the city and ATS wrangled for months over a new contract, finally setting on terms that, at first, appeared to leave Palm Coast with pennies. The agreement’s limited revenue was deceiving, however, because it included a provision that gave ATS the right to increase the number of cameras indefinitely. That wasn’t just to increase ATS’s cash take, but Palm Coast’s, too, as the arrangement showed.

The way the contract is written, the city makes a flat $700 per month on each camera regardless, but ATS takes every penny that camera generates after that, up to $4,250 per camera. Should the camera generate more than that, then the additional revenue will go to the city. But for that to happen, a single camera would have to snap off  more than 66 times successfully—that is, nail a driver 66 times after errors or other issues are accounted for. Only two camera out of 10 locations have managed to exceed that number in the past two years, and even then, just barely: one got 71 citations, another got 70—not the sort of numbers that would increase the city’s take by much. The rest of the locations saw citations range between a low of three to 60. ATS, however, stands to gain the most from the new scheme, even as Palm Coast pockets a far larger share than it’s been getting with just 10 cameras.

Meanwhile, the courts are still wrestling with the legality of those schemes, and so far have split their verdicts, with some calling the schemes unconstitutional and others calling them legal. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the Florida Supreme Court to settle the issue, with potentially costly results for Palm Coast: should the schemes be found unconstitutional, not only would the city lose an immediate source of revenue, but it could, in a worst-case scenario, have to pay back drivers who’d been fined previously.

Few people addressed the council before its vote Tuesday. One resident, a long-time opponent of the cameras, said, referring to the cameras and Goldman Sachs, which backs ATS: “There are a couple of people that really do appreciate them. That’s the taxpayers in Cincinnati, where the holding company is where they collect your money, and the company in Tempe, Arizona, who collects the money. But the city of Palm Coast isn’t making money on these things. The city of Palm Coast is just pissing off a lot of people.”

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95 Responses for “Without Evidence But Plenty of Cash, Palm Coast Approves 52 Spy Cameras, Up from 10”

  1. parentof1 says:

    Really? That is why they pay police to pull people over that are not following the law this is just another reason for the police to sit around and not do anything or pull people over for petty stuff. I am so sick of this county doing pointless things why dont they put more street lights up for the ones having to walk at night or put more side walks in for people and childrean to be able to walk on. Open new parks or fitness centers. Do something other than worrying about stuff that other should be worried about like POLICE. Police pi** me off in this county half of them are so out of shape that if they had to run they would give up. UGHHH.


  2. Lonewolf says:

    If you object to red light cams please read the USA Today article:

    You will probably change your mind if it’s just a little open


  3. I'm glad I left PC says:

    Hey Nancy N if the guy who hits you from behind is going to hit you any way regardless of a camera or not! right? He is not paying attention that is their fault!!!! not yours, defensive driving at its best. You don’t have to pay but we all do if you have seen your insurance bills lately and I don’t think they are going down.


    • Nancy N. says:

      No, that guy isn’t necessarily going to hit me if I don’t have to stop unsafely for the yellow light because I’m afraid to get a ticket I can’t afford. The cameras force me as a driver to take a risk that the guy behind me isn’t going to stop, or take the ticket.


  4. Ben Dover says:

    Lonewolf read my lips Fifty two!!!!!!!!!!!!


  5. Reality Check says:

    This is a simple thing for Government, while I like the system of cameras at the busy intersections, putting them at every corner leads me to the same old Government motto

    “This is greed over need” we do not need this many intersections monitored, it is the we do not know how to monitor the budget so what we will do is subsidize our income in another way. The City council has become a circus with the City Manager the ring master, I hate to say this but they all need to be replaced by younger business professionals who will not be afraid to make the tough decisions. Every meeting I attend is the same thing “well gee I don’t know about that” maybe we should hire a consultant, or maybe we should monitor that. Get off your politically lazy asses and fix the problems all by yourself. We do not need consultants, are you saying you and the City staff are incompetent to figure it out? If so, you should be removed from office and staff should be terminated and replaced. Politics today has become do not offend anyone, BS it is time to stop the spending and start the fixing.


  6. Anonymous says:

    So should I just consider it a “tax” when I get rear-ended because I break for the yellow because of the cameras and the guy behind me doesn’t?

    Why would some blame the City or others for the acts of of the driver who does not follow safe driving practice and the laws of the road. if you get or are the one who rear ends another its their/your fault for not being a safe driver.


    • Nancy N. says:

      The cameras take away my ability to drive defensively! I can’t look in my rear view mirror, know some guy is coming fast and close behind me and that there is a good chance that he won’t stop in time if I do, and decide to proceed through the yellow to be safe, without paying a stiff fine for doing that to avoid the accident. I’m forced to either take the ticket that I can’t afford to ensure my safety, or take the risk that the guy is going to hit me.


  7. question says:

    Wow…81 comments on red light camera ‘intrusion’…
    the same ‘get government out of my life’ folks

    who say OK for male politicians to mandate transvaginal ultrasound probes
    & telling women no abortions, no exceptions. What misogynist phonies!


  8. Jeff H. says:

    Another political move to make money off of the public that supports the city and the state. Why don’t they see the freaking obvious ways to save some money to help things? I noticed on more than one occasion lately city sprinklers on at night and odd times. (while it is raining, and has rained every single day for the past two and half weeks. Is there not an off switch somewhere?) or (How about this new stretch of side walk going down Bell Terre south of Hwy100 going to US1 South.) I’m positive there are alot of peolpe that are glad to see it so they can walk their dogs and ride their bikes. I wonder if they would like to see the bill for the about One and half foot wide flower bed or whatever you want to call it that barely has enough room for the planted crape myrtles that they chose to plant the whole way. I bet that bill was up there for all that mulch and trees, and it looks stupid. I understand Palm Coast’s stand on beautifying but this is a prime example poor planning or poor management or both. No wonder the taxes are as high as they are with the blatant disregard of how some of the money is spent. No different than big government I suppose, Good Job keep up the Good Work.


  9. John Boy says:

    The Arizona company that installs and monitors the camera devices is owned by Goldman Sachs, Goldman has been involved in numerous illegal, unethical activities but always escapes with civil penalties while never admitting any wrong doing. My money is on some political hack in the city getting very rich from under the table payments from Goldman. To find out who simply keep your eyes on who buys a new house, car, boat, takes exotic vacations, etc.


  10. pamala zill says:

    Interestin comment. Regardng the timing of yellow lights. A good place to begin for outraged citizens to petition..


  11. JOHN R. says:

    As the city is guaranteed $700.00 per camera, there will probably be 100-200 cameras around the city before they finish this raid on us.. It is too bad the pols gave themselves an extra year on their terms before we can retire them. At least Jason DeLorenzo is listening to the people.


  12. DP says:

    It goes to show you that, you too can be a council member, you don’t even have to think or have a brain! It’s apparent that all they won’t is the money oh wait the camera company makes more than the city, what rocket scientist 59 cameras? Come on! Where’s their heads?????


    • ann says:

      They are not punishing people who run red lights, they are punishing people who run YELLOW lights, and last I check running a yellow light was NOT illegal! What they are doing is shortening the yellow lights so they can make more money on these! I had a ticket when I “ran the red light ” by .4 seconds! It had just barely turned yellow when I went through it and because i was not speeding, it turned read before I got across the line. this is a scam and everyone needs to know about it!


  13. Bob St.Clair says:

    This is clearly about money, there are not enough accidents related to red light infractions to warrant tthe amount of rex light cameras being installed, crooked politicians taking the easy way out to put money in the coffers. Sickening.


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