TAMPA, Florida - With new crash stats finally in-hand, several city council members Thursday openly questioned whether they had been sold a bill of goods on red light cameras' effectiveness.
The discussion and police analysis followed a 10Investigates story from July 2015 that exposed flaws in the city's red light camera (RLC) claims and its failure to analyze the program's effects on safety for several years running.
Requests for comments from Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office where not returned earlier this week, while representatives from the Tampa Police Department declined interview requests because of ongoing litigation.
But a Tampa Police officer who presented the statistics to city council reported crashes climbed 40% at the city's 23 RLC intersections - the most in West Florida - after cameras were installed, but not as much as they climbed overall in the city (47%) since fiscal year 2010, the last year before the city installed its first cameras. The stats, however, only considered crashes where there were injuries, criminal charges, or seriously-damaged vehicles. Those standards likely omit many minor crashes.
"I want to put the staff on-notice today," said council chairman Frank Reddick, "I plan on introducing a motion - whether I get the support (of council) or not - to modify that contract or rescind it...when it comes up (for renewal in April)."
Reddick said that he was upset the city's camera vendor collected more revenue than the city did from the cameras, limiting how much of the fine revenue Tampa could dedicate toward intersection safety improvements. The numbers were the focus of the July 2015 report by 10Investigates.
The TPD report was not posted on council's online agenda for public review prior to Thursday's meeting and it also contradicts some of the findings of a just-released state analysis on red light cameras, which suggested crashes soared by 50% at Tampa intersections with cameras.
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"The crash data that Tampa has provided, while better than their previous releases, is still quite incomplete," said longtime red light camera critic and statistical analyst Matt Florell, who adds that TPD should have included several years of pre-camera crash data if it was going to compare it to several years of post-camera crash data.
In compiling its analysis of crash data post-camera installation, TPD also failed to take into account that each of the 23 monitored intersections had a different start date for the cameras' installation.
"What is most telling," Florell continued, "comparing this data with the data released by the state of Florida in their 2015 red light camera report...shows that Tampa's red light camera intersections had a 51% increase in total crashes and a 142% increase in angle crashes. Those numbers show the true picture of what is going on at Tampa's red light camera intersections, and it has nothing to do with improving safety."
"We don't report how many pedestrians were saved because somebody stopped," said councilwoman Lisa Montelione. "Any strategy we can utilize (to save lives) is worth while to me...I'm supportive of the program."
Montelione also suggested that drivers who suffer fender-benders because they follow too closely to the car in front of them may deserve to be in minor accidents and cameras shouldn't be to blame.
The sentiment was echoed by Councilman Charlie Miranda, who blamed crashes on distracted drivers.
But councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin, who requested the statistics, said she saw "diminishing returns" in the program and the report didn't provide a "complete picture" of RLC performance.
"I look at these numbers and I don't see the value to our tax dollars," Capin said. "We were told this would help and stop crashes and it's not."