ELMWOOD PLACE, Ohio - If you feel the need for speed, better steer clear of this Cincinnati-area village.
Since installing two traffic cameras that record vehicle speed in September, Elmwood Place has been issuing citations at a rapid pace: 6,600 in the first month, or three times the number of village residents, with a reported $1.5 million in fines overall so far.
It's not unusual for newly installed traffic cameras to anger people when they first open their mail to find photos, citation and a notice of the fine. But the blitz of $105 citations has roiled this economically struggling village for months. There have been petition drives, a councilman's asking the mayor to resign, calls on Facebook and other social media to boycott the village, and a lawsuit that alleges violations of constitutional rights.
Arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled to resume Thursday in Hamilton County court.
"It's just a money grab," said David Downs, one of the plaintiffs. "They did it all wrong. I understand they're hurting for money, but this is the wrong way to get it."
Downs has owned St. Bernard Polishing Co. for 25 years. His small business sits just yards from a camera that sits where the speed limit drops to 25 mph from 35 mph. Big companies including consumer products maker Procter & Gamble Co. and jams maker J.M. Smucker Co. have facilities nearby. Police say as many as 18,000 vehicles a day pass through the one-third-square-mile village, many of them on their way to an Interstate 75 ramp.
Downs said one of his longtime customers has already vowed not to return after getting speeding citations, and other customers are angry.
Another plaintiff is the Rev. Chau Pham, whose Our Lady of Lavang Catholic Community Church had some 70 parishioners -- more than half -- get ticketed the day of a Sunday service in September. The church says the cameras have scared away a third of its Vietnamese congregation, most of whom come from out of town.
There's no argument that Elmwood Place can use the money. Median household income is less than two-thirds of Ohio's statewide figure of some $48,000; poverty rates are higher; and housing values are well below statewide averages.
Police Chief William Peskin said when he joined the force in 1998, there were nine full-time officers. Now, he said, he is the only one, with auxiliary officers helping.
There wasn't enough manpower to deal with the speeding issue that caused alarm after a pedestrian was killed and two children were injured, he said, and village officials were looking for possible solutions when they began talks with Optotraffic.
The Lanham, Md.-based company is one of several U.S. firms in the traffic camera business. It provides and services the cameras, mails citations and handles other administrative tasks in return for 40 percent of the ticket revenue. With many local governments facing budget squeezes, automated traffic cameras are an enforcement option that allows police officers to be deployed for other crime fighting.
"It's an efficient and accurate way to control speed, and we do see that happening around the country," said Optotraffic spokesman Tim Ayers.
The second camera was installed in a school zone. Peskin said the village is already seeing positive effects, with estimated speeding violations down to less than 1 percent of daily traffic compared with 11 percent before the cameras.
"The cameras have worked out great for us," he said, adding that as drivers have adjusted, he's getting few angry calls these days.
"It's a byproduct of us trying to make the community safer," Peskin said.
Federal, state and local courts across the country have upheld use of camera enforcement, and nearby cities such as Dayton and Middletown have used them for years. However, anti-tax and civil rights groups led a successful effort a few years ago to bar traffic cameras in neighboring Cincinnati.
Mike Allen, a former Hamilton County prosecutor, is pressing the case of those who say they are being hurt by the cameras. The lawsuit says the village failed to comply with Ohio law for public notice on its ordinance before putting the cameras in and charges other due process violations, including difficulty in challenging the speeding allegations.
Optotraffic's Ayers said at least three other municipalities in Hamilton County are awaiting the case's outcome before going ahead with cameras. Others, such as the village of New Miami near the Butler County seat of Hamilton in southwest Ohio, have already begun using them.
Dave Siegel, who owns a roofing company with 15 employees, had seen the problem with speeders and risks to children. But he didn't like seeing people get hit with hundreds of dollars in fines, including one employee who racked up four tickets before she even knew about the cameras. (The village has dismissed some fines in such cases of early, multiple citations.)
"I don't agree with it, but it's another government thing," Siegel said. "I think people are slowing down, and that's