NEW VILLAGE MIAMI, OH (FOX19 NOW) - - One week after fielding questions about its contract with a private speed camera company, the Village of New Miami has changed its contract.
A FOX19 NOW Investigation centered on a contract provision requiring New Miami cops to run the private company's speed cameras at least 100 hours each month.
The village is using a handheld laser unit with a camera attached to the side. Images of speeders' license plates are uploaded to the private camera company, who then issues speeding tickets through the mail.
The village and the private company are splitting the $95 fines collected from the cameras. The village is also not using the state's uniform traffic code to issue the tickets, instead charging drivers under a village ordinance that does not assess points and keeps the speeding conviction hidden from insurers.
The December 2015 contract also showed the village is getting a second unit, which would require VNMPD officers to sit in their cars and clock speeders at least 200 hours a month, despite other crimes that might need to be addressed in the village.
VILLAGE MAKeS ABRUPT CONTRACT CHANGE
As soon as we began rolling out elements of our investigation Monday morning, the village's attorney, Dennis Adams, informed FOX19 NOW that the mayor had negotiated a new contract following our Jan. 21 interview with the mayor.
A new contract was signed by Mayor Bob Henley on Jan. 28, removing the 100 hour a month per speed camera mandate. We interviewed Henley outside the village hall on Jan. 21.
"Does that constitute a quota," FOX19's Jody Barr asked Henley. "Not necessarily," Henley responded.
"Just because they run the cameras doesn't mean everybody's getting a ticket. So, it's not a quota," Henley explained.
Henley disputed the interpretation that the contract he signed required his police department to conduct speed enforcement.
"That's not the way the contract reads," Henley said. "Let me read it to you," Barr said. "We could have 15 cameras out here and it's still 100 hours a month," Henley explained. "It says here, each unit shall be in place and operating a minimum of 100 hours per month," Barr read from the contract Henley signed.
"Then, you ask the lawyer," Henley replied.
"If that's not a quota system, I don't know what one is. If that's not something that speaks to policing for profit and revenue enhancement and not public safety, I don't know what is," FOX19 legal analyst Mike Allen said.
Allen was the attorney who led a class action lawsuit against New Miami and Elmwood Place in 2012 and was instrumental to the state's ban of the unmanned speed cameras in 2014.
"This is pure and simple a quota and this is the first time I've ever seen it spelled out in a contract, which is public record for the world to see," Allen told FOX19.
On page 10 of the 12 page December 2015 contract, the Village of New Miami agrees to operate each speed camera "a minimum of 100 hours per month," the agreement states. Village police chief, Dan Gilbert, told FOX19, his department will get a second unit "within the next couple of weeks" that would allow the department to conduct nighttime speed enforcement.
Chief Dan Gilbert scoffed at the notion his department would be forced to conduct speed enforcement as the result of a council vote, "We have a huge speeding problem here in New Miami and we're not going to stop until we properly address that issue," Gilbert told FOX19's Jody Barr.
"This is new technology, welcome to the 21st Century," Gilbert said.
Village attorney Dennis Adams told FOX19 that the village would "likely" operate the speed cameras more than 100 hours a month, but "there's no penalties if we fail to do that." Adams indicated during the interview that the contract did not have any claw backs built in if the village decided it would not carry out the terms of the entire agreement.
HOW IT WORKS
The Village of New Miami paid nothing for the Photo Laser System unit it's currently using to ticket speeders there. The unit was provided to the village under a contract, approved by council and signed by Mayor Bob Henley on Dec. 3, 2015.
The PLS is the trade name for the radar unit, owned by Blue Line Solutions, LLC, an Athens, Tennessee company the village signed the contract with Dec. 3.
On July 17, 2015, Blue Line Solutions, LLC filed incorporation records with the Ohio Secretary of State's Office. That filing came two months after the Village of New Miami passed an updated speed ordinance to the one that was outlawed in 2014.
Under the new speed camera program, officers use a sight on top of a laser to target a vehicle. A camera is attached to the side of the laser and is connected to a tablet inside the patrol car.
Through the sight, the officer can see the speed and distance, then pulls a trigger to capture the date, time, speed and GPS coordinates of the violation. That information, including a photograph of the vehicle and license plate, is wirelessly uploaded to Blue Line Solutions, LLC at the end of each day, VNMPD Chief Dan Gilbert told FOX19.
After review by a Village of New Miami police supervisor, the ticket is mailed to the registered owner and a fine of $95 is included.
The village and Blue Line Solutions, LLC split each $95 fine with one another. The village keeps 65 percent of the $95 fine while the private camera company keeps 35 percent.
The speed cameras as free for the village, provided to the village by the private contractor under the five year deal.
VILLAGE CREATED ITS OWN SPEEDING LAW
Village of New Miami records show the small Butler County village created its own speeding law in 1991, allowing the village to charge speeding violations under a civil ordinance instead of under the state's uniform traffic statute.
Under the village ordinance, drivers caught speeding in New Miami would not be subjected to the state's point system, which would suspend a driver who accrued 12 point violations in a two year period. As a result, insurance companies would not know the conduct of the drivers they cover.
"The BMV needs to keep track of these things," Mike Allen said. "They do it on purpose because they want to know who the problematic traffic offenders in this state are," Allen told FOX19.
"Without the point penalty do you see where some folks still may have a problem with this set up," Barr asked VNMPD Chief Dan Gilbert. "I do. However, the flip side of that is simple, I'd have to ask myself, which one would be the best for me and my driving record," the chief explained.
The point of contention, Allen explained, was not that drivers are being ticketed. Allen's gripe with New Miami's approach is that the village refuses to follow the state's uniform traffic code, "If that's what they want to do is work on public safety, that's the way to do it, not cranking these things out and sticking their hands in the tax payer's wallet," Allen said.
The Village of New Miami ordinance does not limit the number of civil violations that could be issued to a single driver who violates the speed limits there. Meaning, the village could ticket an offender dozens of times and the BMV would never know.
"This program is actually a benefit to the public. I would rather pay a civil fine with no points attached and my insurance rates not go up, versus paying for point assessments and higher insurance rates," Gilbert explained.
Gilbert acknowledged there could potentially exist a flaw in the village's speed ticketing practices.
"I think an individual can take advantage of—take kindness as a weakness," Gilbert said. "If we have to go back to the normal, uniform traffic tickets, we'll do that," Gilbert told FOX19.
POTENTIAL TO MAKE MILLIONS
The village ordinance also allows New Miami to skirt the state's mandated ticket fine sharing statute. By not charging speeders under the state's uniform code, the Village of New Miami can legally keep every bit of the $95 fine, if the village chose to do so.
We asked the Ohio Department of Public Safety for the Ohio Revised Code section that details how uniform traffic fine disbursements are broken down. The agency directed us to ORC 4513.35, which shows the disbursements as:
- 45%: of all uniform traffic tickets issued by municipal cops to be remitted to the state of Ohio
- 5%: remitted to the state’s Trauma and Emergency Medical Services Fund
- 10%: remitted to the particular county treasury
- 40%: the ticketing municipality’s general fund.
The Village of New Miami's ordinance increases its take of ticket revenues from the 40 percent allowed under the state's uniform traffic code to 65 percent under the civil speeding ordinance.
The cameras could mean large revenue boosts for the village and Blue Line Solutions, LLC. When we went out with an officer on Jan. 13 to see how the system works, we watched him catch three speeders in 20 minutes.
Using that as an average, VNMPD could catch nine speeders an hour, netting $855 an hour in fines.
At 100 hours a month, that would total $85,500. When New Miami adds its second camera that figure could double to $171,000 a month and $2,052,000 a year. The village would keep $1,333,800 and Blue Line Solutions, LLC would collect $718,200.
Those figures do not include late fees or the $4.25 credit card processing fee Blue Line Solutions, LLC plans to charge offenders who choose to pay fines that way.
"Thinking people and intelligent people see this for what it is: it's policing for profit," Mike Allen said, "It's a money grab."
The Village of New Miami's speed camera contract with Blue Line Solutions, LLC expires in 2020.