By KYLE MARTIN
BROOKSVILLE – For the first time in 77 years, Warren Stevenson held a traffic ticket with his name on it.
He was surprised, actually, because it came in his mailbox.
At first examination, Stevenson thought the document was a public announcement about the red light traffic cameras recently installed in Brooksville. A closer look revealed he was being fined $125 for running the light at Broad Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, $125, are they out of their mind?'” Stevenson said. “It really irritated me.”
On Tuesday, he went before a hearing officer to plead his case. Stevenson said his right turn on red at that intersection seemed to be everyone else’s violation, too.
Records show there were 14 people who contested their ticket; four were dismissed. Stevenson’s ticket wasn’t.
It’s cases like Stevenson’s that attract the attention of West Palm Beach attorney Jason Weisser. Weisser and his firm, Schuler, Halvorson & Weisser, are advertising their services in the cities across the state that use cameras to catch red light runners.
Their ad showed up in Hernando Today this week.
Brooksville began installing cameras in March and expect the fifth camera to go online soon. Police Chief George Turner champions the cameras as a public safety measure that deters motorists from running red lights.
The projected annual revenue from the cameras is $1 million. Turner would like to convert that into a full-time traffic unit for the police department as a further safeguard against traffic crashes.
The cameras are not without their controversy, however. Critics argue they reek of Big Brother. Weisser has several arguments he’s using in an attempt to declare the cameras unconstitutional.
From the outset, Weisser said, a driver is considered guilty unless they can prove their innocence. He also finds fault with the fact that the owner of the vehicle, not the driver, is ticketed.
He also cites a sentence in the introduction to state traffic laws that he believes is clear-cut evidence of the illegality of red light cameras.
Specifically: “It is unlawful for any local authority to pass or to attempt to enforce any ordinance in conflict with the provisions of this chapter.”
But it’s not a black and white matter. Florida Statute 316 also allows cities to pass traffic ordinances that “regulate municipal traffic.” They are also authorized to use “official traffic control devices” and monitor traffic with “security devices,” whether by “public or private parties.”
The cameras’ operators are a private Arizona-based company called American Traffic Solutions.
The differing opinions came to a head in a 2005 opinion by then-Attorney General Charlie Crist. He decided that municipalities could not issue criminal citations using the cameras, but civil ordinances were legal. That formula remains in effect.
Back in Brooksville, Stevenson will avoid the Broad Street intersection on his near daily trips into town.
“I feel like it’s entrapment,” he said.