LAKELAND — If Lakeland is going to stick with its red-light-camera program, it should decide soon to save money on the contract renewal, City Attorney Tim McCausland said.
The contract with American Traffic Solutions, the vendor who built and maintains the red-light cameras, and puts potential violations through its first round of vetting, is coming to a close. The company is offering to reduce its prices if the contract is renewed before it lapses.
The City Commission could see the terms of the renewed contract by next month, McCausland said.
Likewise, if the City Commission wants to end its camera program, it should decide soon, McCausland added.
Lakeland began installing the cameras in 2009, a system that now comprises 18 cameras at 11 intersections after a 2013 expansion.
The city's professional staff and police officials continue to back the use of red-light cameras.
"We wholly support this and hope you will, too," Police Chief Larry Giddens told commissioners during a policy-planning session Friday.
Armed with statistics produced internally and from ATS, the vendor, Capt. Sam Taylor described the impact of the system, including videos of some of the greatest almost-hits from red-light runners caught on camera.
Last year, the department issued 23,085 of the $158 citations after 39,751 cases were reviewed by sworn police officers.
"It changes behavior," Taylor said. "It changes my behavior when I go through them."
Taylor reported that since the cameras were installed, only 15 percent of those who had received a citation received a second one. The statistic was supplied by ATS, but Taylor said he was not sure whether that counted first-year violators only or whether it counted recidivism among violators for the entire eight years.
Mayor Bill Mutz questioned the safety record of the cameras in light of an annual state report that suggested the number of crashes near intersections continued to rise despite the presence of cameras.
Taylor said the number of variables at play make an analysis of the efficacy of cameras difficult, and questioned the broad-stroke analysis by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Commissioners other than Justin Troller offered little on how they may vote on continuing the camera program.
"I'm a fan of red-light cameras to a certain extent," Troller said, "but I won't support expanding it or continuing it without some changes."
For one, Troller said, he would like light-change countdowns installed at every camera-controlled intersection, similar to the count on pedestrian crosswalks, saying it would provide more transparency to how intersections are controlled.
He also would like to see a portion of the money collected from the program to be fed back into public-safety agencies, he said. In the past, the camera revenues had been used to fund art organizations; more recently, the profits have mostly been sequestered as a hedge against potentially damaging court rulings.
"The reason that all that money is being held back is at a risk that some court somewhere will tell us that we have to disgorge all the money we've collected with red-light cameras," McCausland said.
There is about $2 million held in reserve, Deputy Finance Director Deidra Joseph said.
Troller also expressed skepticism for the cameras' ability to reduce accidents, asking police officials whether the 19 traffic deaths in Lakeland last year were at intersections.
No, Taylor responded, though he did not have the breakdown immediately available.
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@directgates.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.