red light, runners, police
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- There is often little forgiveness when Florida drivers get caught by red light cameras. But when the drivers are police officers, a double-standard sometimes applies.
Through a series of records requests to nearly two dozen agencies, the 10 Investigates found at least four gave no discipline or warnings to law enforcement officers that were caught running red lights -- even if there was no emergency.
In St. Petersburg, the city adopted a policy in 2012 that instructed police officers reviewing red light camera violations to pull fellow officers' violations aside.
The department investigates each incident to see if the officer was on an emergency call. St. Pete, like every other agency in the region, immediately dismisses any possible red light camera violation for officers on emergency calls.
But unlike civilian drivers -- who face $158 tickets for a red light camera violation -- St. Petersburg officers who had no excuse for running the light typically face only a warning. Multiple violations could result in progressive discipline.
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St. Petersburg updated its policy in 2013 to make off-duty officers pay red light camera fines, but on-duty officers who get caught by red light cameras still avoid paying anything.
No such policy exists at most other local agencies. At the Tampa Police Department, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Polk County Sheriff's Office, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, officers are responsible for any fine assessed while they are behind the wheel.
"Just because you're a law enforcement officer doesn't mean you should be treated certainly any better," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Guiltieri, a staunch red light camera opponent.
"We're always trying to benchmark ourselves against Tampa," said St. Petersburg Councilman Wengay Newton. "In Tampa, everyone pays. Nobody is above the law."
St. Petersburg's police chief, Chuck Harmon, retired Monday and interim chief David DeKay said he wasn't yet ready to comment on the policy.
But the city's new mayor was.
"I'm going to want to talk to the chief about this policy," said Mayor Rick Kriseman. "On its face, it would be a concern. So I need to know what's the background if there is a formalized policy...and why is this policy in-place; what's the purpose of it?'
In Manatee County, the sheriff's office recently became the first in the region to adopt a zero tolerance policy on rolling right turns. But records requests led the 10 News Investigators to video of deputies rolling through intersections, all of whom received either no discipline or a warning.
The Port Richey Police Department has no written policy on "free passes" for police officers, but Captain Don Young tells 10 News that officers reviewing the possible citations are told not to cite any emergency vehicle. The agency reported there were no records related to any officers ever receiving any discipline for running red lights in the city.
And in Clearwater, 10 News found not just police officers, but public utility workers, sanitation workers, and fire department employees all running red lights without any fines.
Emails obtained by 10 News reveal the police department was in the habit of telling other department heads when an employee would run a red light. But there were no records of discipline and no records of fines being paid.
"That is not something that's going to continue," said Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne, who said the city has a policy that on-duty employees must pay fines they deserve. "I can't explain to you why that administrative error occurred...but clearly, the policy was there and it wasn't being followed."
Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to email@example.com.
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