This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Red Light Cameras--A Commitment to Safety

By now you have likely heard the news; on March 21st, Gulfport will start using photo enforcement cameras for red light violations. This will make us the third city in Pinellas County (behind Kenneth City and South Pasadena) to implement these measures. Likely to follow will be the cities of St. Petersburg and Oldsmar, both of whom are now in planning stages.

I have been involved in this project for three years now, and in that time I have become intimately familiar with the details. Armed with this information, and from my perspective as police chief, I am confident we are moving in the right direction.

Controversial subject?

There are those who say that red light cameras are about revenue and not safety. They say that the cameras actually have little effect on reducing traffic crashes, and that they may in fact increase crashes. Some claim that the enforcement mechanism is unfair or even unconstitutional.

To all of these, I say they are simply wrong.

Yes, red light camera enforcement will probably result in revenue for the city. I am just not sure why that is such a concern. Cities have been receiving revenue from traffic fines since roads were first built. The only difference with this program is that citations will be issued via an automated process rather than a police officer. So the true question becomes this: do we really need to issue that many citations?

The answer lies in the fact that more people are killed and seriously injured in traffic crashes than in all forms of crime combined. The worst of these crashes typically involve a red light violation. If we truly want to put resources where the problems lie, then we need to put as much as possible into traffic enforcement. Unfortunately, the budget situation simply won't allow us to employ enough officers to do the level of enforcement we ought to be doing. So when an option comes along that allows me to catch almost 100 percent of violators without having to deploy a single officer, I'm all for it.

Photo enforcement reduces crashes and saves lives. Period. I have personally looked at many of the studies that purport to show otherwise, and I have found major issues with their results. For example, one publication suggested red light cameras caused crashes to increase in Los Angeles. Detailed review, however, shows that the "researcher" was including crashes within a block of the intersection, whether or not related to the traffic signal. When those irrelevant crashes were excluded, the results were the opposite: crashes at camera-controlled intersections had decreased.

Also note the February, 2011 study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This independent organization found that red-light-running crashes reduced 35% from 2004 to 2008 in the 14 largest cities with red light cameras in operation.

Due process means you have the right to challenge your accuser and present evidence on your behalf. Every person who receives a violation notice from a photo enforcement program will have that right. The process for these types of violations is no different than it is for any other; a traffic court magistrate will rule based on the evidence presented from both sides. What makes photo enforced violations different is the fact that the vehicle owner, and not necessarily the driver, is the responsible party. That issue brings about claims of unfairness.

Consider this, however. Courts have upheld the eviction of tenants based on the unruly behavior of guests. The government also holds taxpayers accountable for false returns completed by a third party. Even police are allowed to seize property used in the commission of a crime when the owner is not the one using said property. The major argument behind all of these is that the owner bears responsibility in exercising control over his or her property. Red light violations are no different. Vehicle owners must scrutinize those to whom they consider lending their cars. If a citation is issued, the owner can always demand that the borrower pay up or risk losing the right to borrow the vehicle in the future.


Pinellas County has among the highest traffic crash injury and death rates in the United States. Our society, and Gulfport is no exception, cannot afford NOT to take advantage of every opportunity to address this situation. The use of a camera enforcement program precisely targets the main problem while allowing us to use our existing resources on other issues. If we happen to end up with some money in the end, so be it.


  1. What percentage of the red light camera citations that you have been issuing are for right turn on red?

    Why are you targeting right turn on red?

    How long has the light been red for the average offender?

  2. Since we starting issuing violation notices on March 23rd, 23.6 percent have been for imprudent or unsafe right turns.

    We do not target right on red. We identify any and all violations and enforce them accordingly.

    I do not have any way to answer the question regarding length of red lights. I can assure you that in every case, the light was red before the violator reached the designated stop bar.

  3. The RTIME on the "A-shot"(the first still shot of the violation, at the top of the shot, the fifth column, in yellow) in the ATS system police review screen. It shows up in seconds and tenths of a second like this: 000.3

    What I want to know is the average time the light was red before the car went through the intersection. My belief is that if one additional second was added to the yellow times, that your non-right-turn violations would go down by over 70%, as has happened in many other cities.

    Would you agree that reducing violations by that amount would be a good thing?

  4. I understand that each violation shows the time the light was red. My point is that I have no way to calculate the average without committing dozens of hours to review each violation, note the times, and do the math manually.

    The signals in Gulfport are maintained by the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Yellow phase timing is set in accordance with FDOT standards.

  5. Have you asked your ATS representative for this information? They have the RTIME information available in their system already, and they can pull it for you if you request it, at no time expense to you except for a phone call.

    As for yellow timing, if adding one additional second of yellow time would make the intersections safer, why would you not want to recommend doing it to St Pete and the county?