Vero Beach’s red light cameras could be on hold, again

VERO BEACH — Two weeks after Vero Beach City Council members were informed the city would be moving forward with installing red light cameras at four intersections, the cameras seem to be on hold yet again.

County Commissioner Gary Wheeler said he met with Mayor Kevin Sawnick and City Manager Jim Gabbard on Friday, during which Gabbard told him the city was not moving forward with installing the cameras. Gabbard did not give the commissioner a reason and refused to take a call from seeking confirmation of what the commissioner said. Neither City Attorney Charlie Vitunac or Vero Beach Police Chief Don Dappen returned calls seeking information about the status of the cameras

Police Public Information Officer John Morrison said he would contact Chief Dappen for an update.

Commissioner Wheeler said he assumes the red light cameras were put on hold due to a recent court ruling in Florida. That ruling, in Aventura, Miami-Dade County, found that red light cameras violate laws that require the state, not local governments, to establish traffic laws.

Regardless of the status of the cameras’ installation, at least two county commissioners oppose the city’s plan to use cameras to catch red light runners.

“I’m totally opposed to them,” said Wheeler, a former Indian River County Sheriff, and explained that he believes the cameras are another step closer to George Orwell’s “1984” and “Big Brother.”

Former police officer Joe Flescher, too, takes issue with the red light cameras. He said that cameras could be justified in highly populated and highly congested areas where enforcement is limited, but that’s not the case in Indian River County.

He said the cameras are accurate, but they leave no room for the human element, the things that a police officer can take into account on a traffic stop.

“They allow for no discretion,” Flescher said, which an officer could have.

Violations captured on camera are sent to the local law enforcement agency – in this case, the Vero Beach Police Department, where a member of staff would review the alleged violation and determine whether to issue a citation.

Supporters of the cameras cite increased public safety and a reduction in red light violations as reasons to have the camera enforcement.

Chief Dappen told in mid-February that it has been proven that the cameras increase awareness at the intersections.

“These things work,” the chief said at the time. He said in  90 percent of the cases red light runners do so because they were not paying attention to the traffic signal. The cameras would have signs posted in advance warning of the camera enforcement and would bring more visibility to the intersection.

“It’s disingenuous to say it’s for public safety purposes,” Wheeler said, adding if that were the case then the camera operation company should receive all the funds from the citations instead of splitting it with the city.

Mayor Kevin Sawnick said the cameras are a matter of public safety and the funds – in his opinion – should be used for public safety related education.

“For me, it’s all about public safety,” the mayor said. “And if the city makes one dime from all of it, I want to make sure it’s used for (public safety) education.”

The first opportunity the Vero Beach City Council could discuss the status of the red light cameras amongst themselves in public would be at the Tuesday, March 2, council meeting. However, the red light camera issue is not on the agenda.

Instead of installing cameras at problem intersections, Wheeler said the city should post a police officer there for a red light detail, explaining that the officer’s presence would do more to deter crimes other than running the light.

When asked if the commissioner would support the cameras in the unincorporated part of the county with all proceeds going to the camera operator, Wheeler said he would not.

“I would adamantly and vigorously oppose it…no matter what,” the commissioner said.

In mid-February, city officials identified four intersections they expect the cameras to be installed. Those intersections include:

17th Street at US 1 – Westbound

20th Place at State Road 60 – direction unknown

20th Street at 20th Avenue – Northbound

Barber Bridge at Indian River Boulevard – Westbound

Reporter Lisa Zahner contributed to this report.

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