Northwood Police Sergeant Doug Hubaker wants the city to continue operating automated photo speed and red light enforcement cameras at two intersections for public safety reasons.
Sgt. Hubaker, a 23-year police veteran who has been with Northwood 18 years, Wednesday morning spoke to arguably what may be the cameras’ biggest opponents — business men and women who are members of the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club. Some fear motorists stay out of Northwood to avoid the cameras.
Instead, Rotary Club members expressed agreement with Hubaker’s perspective — that public safety has improved since the cameras were installed in 2005.
Ex-Mayor Dennis Ebel, who also owns D.R. Ebel Fire Equipment Sales and Services in Northwood, said the cameras are an effective tool.
“As former mayor of Northwood, I wish this was available to me back then. We had too many accidents at Wales and Oregon roads and at the (Lemoyne and Woodville roads) intersection.”
He said he did not realize, as noted by Hubaker, that the cameras do not catch motorists unless they are nine miles over the school zone of 20 mph, or 13 miles over the 35 mph speed limit outside the school zone.
One Rotary guest asked Hubaker whether the city counted traffic to find out if it is has gone down since the cameras were installed. To his knowledge, no such survey was done, but “from a layman’s point of view,” it appeared to police that “a steady flow of traffic was going through Oregon-Wales now.”
On May 2, it appeared that the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., which installed and operates the cameras, would not be renewed because four of seven councilmen were considering voting against it. At a meeting on May 9, council tabled the vote because all seven councilmen were not present.
The current three-year contract with Redflex expired on April 23. The city and Redflex share a percentage of the revenue from traffic citations issued as a result of the cameras, which have caught thousands of motorists speeding or going through red lights since they were installed. Violators do not get points on their licenses.
Hubaker said if the fine is not appealed and remains unpaid, the matter can be referred to a collection agency, which can affect the violator’s credit report. One Rotary guest who deals in finance said she has seen it on credit reports.
Who’s getting rich?
Hubaker, a former undercover drug enforcement policeman and former school resource officer, said his educational background is in public safety. He admits to being one of those who first brought the idea of traffic cameras to the city’s attention and began investigating its use in 2003. Toledo was the first city in the state to install the cameras, Northwood was third.
He responded to an argument that the cameras’ purpose is only to bring revenue to the city by explaining that income generated was put back into public safety, such as new equipment, road safety improvements, and a new salt dome.
“Does it generate money for the city? Of course it does. What does Northwood do with that revenue? In some cities they don’t have a plan as to what to use that money for. In Northwood, we decided to use that money for public safety. A lot of people who had complaints about the system didn’t like the concept of it — not the running of the operations. And some people question the Constitutionality of it,” Hubaker said.
In 2003, the city had about 370 crashes per year, he said. The city had to add to its police workforce just to handle the accidents. Hubaker said Northwood now has 17 police officers, when its “authorized strength” is 21, and removing the cameras would put more stress on the police force.
“For a town of 5,500, investigating one traffic accident per day each year — that’s outrageous,” Hubaker said. “I can’t tell you how many police officers across the country I’ve talked to about it — asking why did your town put this in and what has it done for your town from a public safety perspective? It was all positive — traffic crashes were down.”
Within 30 days after the camera’s installation in 2005, 3,500 warning letters were sent to potential violators for one intersection — Lemoyne and Woodville roads.
At the Wales-Oregon intersection, he said there were a high number of college students who were violating the `right turn on red’ law. Most were turning on red, but they weren’t stopping first. So, the city used camera revenue to construct a continuous right turn lane, he said.
“If we were in it for the revenue, we’d just have kept clicking and clicking and clicking,” Hubaker said. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m about one of the most ethical guys you’ll meet and we’re sending tickets out for legitimate reasons. So, we’ve done good things with this. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I got a raise because of photo enforcement.’”
He said the city is now issuing 175 to 200 citations a month for two intersections, down from 3,500 at just one intersection eight years ago. At Wales, crashes have gone from 30 crashes a month to nine. Crashes throughout the city dropped from 375 to 200 per year, a 45 percent decline.
Hubaker said few violators are from Northwood or out of state. Most are from Toledo or local communities like Genoa or Oak Harbor.
“Trust me, I’ve heard it all,” Hubaker said. “I’ve had 50 voice mails a day from people calling or complaining about it. Driving is 90 percent habit, and many people are just in the habit of speeding. Accidents are the leading cause of death for ages 18 to 24 with traffic accidents contributing quite a bit to that statistic. And of fatal accidents, speeding is the leading cause of that.”
Hubaker suggests that naysayers should talk to school crossing guards at Woodville and Lemoyne. When school is in session, there are more violations. To warn motorists, the city used camera revenue to install a digital speed trailer that lets drivers know their speed.
“Are these things we have to do? No,” said Hubaker.. “We have gone a step further to tell them, ‘Hey, this is coming.’”