Red light camera systems are becoming an increasingly prevalent source of traffic tickets throughout Florida. It is well-known that red-light cameras allow cities to issue more traffic tickets than traditional methods, since police officers no longer need to pull drivers over to issue a citation. However, cities are also using these systems to increase the output of traffic tickets in a less-visible way: by outsourcing the traffic citations process to private companies. Many cities are contracting with red light camera operators, not just to take photographs of cars running red lights, but also to review those photographs, screen for possible violations, and mail traffic citations to those who are found to have violated the law. In the most egregious situations, these contracts can effectively make employees of private companies honorary traffic cops.
Florida law regulates how much a city can delegate its traffic enforcement duties to private companies. Specifically, section 316.0083 of the Florida Statutes allows private companies to “review” information from red light camera. However, only law enforcement officers can choose who gets prosecuted for a red-light violation.
In 2014, in a case called City of Hollywood v. Arem, the Fourth District Court of Appeal dismissed a traffic ticket because Hollywood, Florida’s contract with a red-light camera operator delegated too much power to red light camera companies. The court found that the contract violated Florida Law because private companies reviewed all of the infractions caught by the red-light camera, and then determined who should receive a traffic citation. The cases flagged by the company were sent to the city for review, but the court found that the city merely “acquiesced” in the decisions that had already been made by the company.
Two recent opinions by other courts – Aventura v. Jiminez, decided by the Third District Court of Appeal in July and Oldsmar v. Bondi, decided by the Second District Court of Appeal last week- came to the opposite conclusion, reviewing substantially similar contracts to City of Hollywood’s. Both courts found that allowing private companies to screen traffic infractions before sending them over to the city was not a delegation of police power, but a “review” of the traffic camera data permitted by Florida Law. The Oldsmar court noted that the initial screening was still strictly regulated by the city’s own rules, and that a law enforcement officer was the one who ultimately made the call as to whether to issue a traffic citation.
The Oldsmar court certified that it’s decision conflicted with the Arem court’s, meaning the case could go to the Supreme Court. For now, however, Florida Courts remain divided as to what role private industry can play in traffic enforcement. Hollywood residents have already begun seeking refunds for traffic tickets following its court’s decision, and if the Supreme Court follows suit, many other Floridians may eventually be doing the same.