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New law will require transparency for red light cameras. Some Florida cities are making a killing

A red light camera on the corner of SW 8th Street and SW 62 Avenue in the City of West Miami.
Daniel Rivero
A red light camera on the corner of SW 8th Street and SW 62 Avenue in the City of West Miami.

In the tiny city of West Miami, the sound of a red light camera shutter might as well sound like a cash register.

Every month, the town of about 7,000 residents regularly snaps thousands of automated photos of people suspected of violating traffic laws. The money derived from six red light cameras amounts to more than 15% of the city’s total revenue, far higher than most other cities that run the programs.

The cameras are expected to generate a total of $1.45 million in revenue for the city this year, making them the second largest source of funds, after property taxes. The total estimated revenue for the city this year is $9.2 million.

As a new law requiring more transparency for red light camera programs comes into effect, WLRN has analyzed data for South Florida cities, which make up about half the cities in Florida that operate the programs.

“Cities should not be financing their entire budgets off of these systems."
Republican State Rep. David Borrero.

West Miami is the city most reliant on the red light camera revenue to fund its municipal government, WLRN found.

“I average between 3,000 to 3,500 reviews per month. Out of that, probably 3,000 get cited,” Ricardo Roque, the police officer in charge of reviewing the red light camera footage, told WLRN. “A lot of them get dismissed.”

West Miami and other cities that run the programs must offer a public hearing for people who want to contest their tickets. The West Miami meetings are run by private attorney Marcos Martinez, who was hired by the city.

“This is like a major hub that connects the City of Miami and the city of Coral Gables and unincorporated Dade, all of which are much bigger jurisdictions. So everyone shortcuts through here,” Martinez told WLRN. “Traffic is actually probably the main problem in the city.”

During a June meeting, most people who contested their citations were dismissed, due to pulling what Martinez called a “Miami right” — a slow rolling right hand turn on a red light. While technically illegal, it’s common. Roque admitted he tends to cite these turns, while Martinez tends to be more lenient.

A crowd of ticketed drivers attend a Red Light Camera Hearing in the city of West Miami in June 2024.
Daniel Rivero
A crowd of ticketed drivers attend a Red Light Camera Hearing in the city of West Miami in June 2024.

“If you do it in a careful and prudent manner, what I call a ‘Miami right’ — which 99% of the people here are familiar with and have done themselves — it’s fine,” said Martinez.

One exception was a driver who did a slow-rolling right turn on a red light when it was dark and raining. A pedestrian dressed in black was walking in the crosswalk, and was narrowly missed by the car. The driver did not show up to the hearing, and was ticketed.

“Those are the people we’re trying to protect here,” explained Martinez, referring to the anonymous pedestrian.

Martinez theorized that being such a small town, it makes sense that West Miami derives a larger portion of its budget from the cameras, compared to larger cities.

West Miami mayor Eric Diaz Padron did not agree to be interviewed for this story.

Budgets for cities that operate the programs across South Florida show a broad range of reliance on the cameras to fund city governments.

Coming after West Miami, the city of Opa-Locka (population about 16,000) expects to derive 12.5% of its revenue from its program this year, according to the annual budget. That amounts to $2.8 million in revenue out of a total revenue of $22.3 million.

The small industrial city of Medley (population about 1,000) follows, receiving over 6% of its revenue from red light cameras. It expects to pull $2 million in revenue from the cameras, or $2,000 per resident, this year. The total city revenues are just over $32 million.

Aventura (population about 39,000) gets nearly 5% of its funds from red light cameras; Miami Springs (about 13,000) gets 4.5%.

The South Florida city that generates the most cash from red light cameras is Miami Gardens, population about 110,000. It expects to make just over $2.8 million this year, but that amounts to less than two percent of its $143 million in revenue.

Driver Miguel Delgado, of Sweetwater, was caught by a camera while doing a slow right hand turn in West Miami. He assumed off the bat that he was targeted by the city simply in order to make money.

Attorney Marcos Martinez was hired by the City of West Miami to review and make determinations about red light
Daniel Rivero
Attorney Marcos Martinez was hired by the City of West Miami to review and make determinations about red light camera tickets when they are contested. Martinez runs a monthly meeting on the tickets.

“I was guessing it was something like that,” he said. “Many cities, they’re making a lot of money with that kind of revenue.”

Doral killed its red light camera program last year, after officials noted that accidents greatly increased at intersections where the cameras operated.

Ballots, legal challenges and public pressure

While public safety is often used as a justification for red light cameras, a 2022 state study found that many intersections actually see an increase in crashes after cameras are placed. Rear-end crashes in particular go up, as drivers tend to slam on the brakes instead of risking a ticket.

Delgado pointed out that his hometown of Sweetwater has also done away with red light cameras. The city once made millions of dollars on them every year, but a public backlash led to residents voting 81% in favor of banning the program in 2019.

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Republican State Rep. David Borrero spearheaded the effort to the question on the ballot for Sweetwater residents, back when he was a city commissioner. He represents Sweetwater and Doral in Tallahassee.

“I would guarantee you that if you let the voters decide in Opa-Locka, in West Miami, any city, any county where it’s being implemented, that the voters would overwhelmingly across party lines vote to eliminate them,” Borrero told WLRN.

Legal challenges against red light cameras have been ongoing ever since the state passed a law allowing them in 2010.

Under popular pressure and allegations that they were simply being used to milk money from commuters, jurisdictions like unincorporated Miami-Dade, the City of Miami and Hialeah banned them. In 2016, there were 67 jurisdictions using red light cameras across the state; by 2023 that number was down to 42, according to the Florida Department of Revenue.

Efforts to ban red light camera programs statewide have been filed in the Legislature going back over a decade, but they have never gained traction. Two bills filed for this year’s legislative session — both filed by Miami Republicans — would have led to statewide ballot amendments banning the programs. State Sen. Ileana Garcia, who represents West Miami in Tallahassee, filed one of the bills. Borrero filed the other.

A man in a suit speaks into a microphone.
Florida House of Representatives
Florida House of Representatives
Republican State Rep. David Borrero

“Cities should not be financing their entire budgets off of these systems. To have to ticket people to death in order to exist as a municipal government in my opinion is inappropriate,” said Borrero.

While not banning them, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in May that will require additional transparency for red light camera programs. It was sponsored by State Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera and State Sen. Alexis Calatayud, both Miami Republicans. Neither responded to requests for comment.

“It’s a good first step,” said Borrero.

The new law will require all cities that use the cameras to produce annual reports about the programs, and to make that report publicly available. The amount of money collected by the fines — information currently buried deep in hard-to-decipher municipal budgets — will have to be included in the report.

The law also requires cities to approve future contracts for red light camera companies in public meetings, where elected officials can receive community feedback. Cities or counties that do not comply with the new transparency requirements will have their red light camera programs suspended.

The law went into effect July 1.

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WLRN recently created an investigative reporting team comprised of reporters Danny Rivero and Joshua Ceballos, and two editors, Jessica Bakeman and Sergio R. Bustos. WLRN is a nonprofit newsroom that relies on your donations to fund their work and undertake stories like this one. Please donate today.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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