It’s early afternoon, and Franklin Township Police Officer Jeff Francies is on traffic duty. Taking up a spot in a driveway along Clime Road, he explains how the township’s new speed camera works.
He pulls out a tablet and selects the street.
“It shows speed limit was 35,” Francies explains, “so the enforced speed will be 47.”
Then he levels the radar gun, fitted out with a camera unit on one side, and waits.
It doesn’t take long. In no time, he’s logged four tickets.
“And that would make five,” Francies says, as he catches another speeder. “That was 56 miles an hour in a 35 zone.”
He says the camera allows him to catch far more speeding drivers than if he turned on his lights and chased them down. That’s because he does not have to pull the drivers over: The camera snaps a picture, the computer reads the license plate and the driver gets a ticket in the mail a few days later.
“We’ve been here maybe an hour, if that—and I know we’ve got at least 10, maybe 15," Francies says. "And the old fashioned way, if we clocked them on radar and went after them, we may have been able to process three of them, maybe four at the most.”
The month-old program is the township’s solution to enforcing speed limits with a small police force. Local leaders contract with a company called GATSO, which provides the cameras and handles most of the paperwork in exchange for a 37 percent cut of the revenue. It's not all outsourced, though: Franklin Township officers review the tickets before they’re sent to drivers.
One of them showed up in Martha Renda’s mailbox.
“With a picture of my van going down Clime Road—going over the speed limit,” Renda says. “However, I wasn’t driving; my husband was.”
Her husband Guy isn’t allowed to use the van for the time being. And he readily admits he was speeding, but it doesn’t sit well with him that the officer didn’t pull him over.
“She’s right, you know, if I got a ticket, come and get me,” he says. “You know, pull me over, that’s what they’re there for. I don’t know where he was hiding at, where he was sitting at, who knows. Could be in a driveway, could be anywhere, but if you’re going to get somebody, get somebody.”
You can contest the tickets, but Martha says it would’ve been a hassle, and they could’ve been on the hook for court fees. It’s a civil citation, so it won’t put points on her driver’s record. Still, she’s worried it might affect insurance.
Franklin Township trustee Aryeh Alex defends the program. Alex says speeding is the biggest complaint he hears about from voters.
“We don’t have sidewalks and we have very narrow roads, and a lot of our main roads in the township are cut-throughs to other bigger roads,” Alex says. “And so a lot of people use them to cut through and so people speed through them pretty quickly, making a dangerous situation.”
The Rendas actually agree, but complain officers are focusing on places like Clime Road, a broad three-lane highway, rather than more residential areas. They say drivers regularly speed down their street or pass stopped school buses on nearby Brown Road.
According to Police Chief Byron Smith, school traffic is his primary focus.
“We have, I want to say, six, seven schools,” Smith says. “We have one in particular close to here that the speeding is just rampant during the school time.”
The figures are striking. Instead of nabbing 15 speeders in an hour, Francies catches about 20 cars within 25 minutes in front of Harmon Elementary. Smith says the cameras can help cut back on the time officers spend on traffic enforcement.
“Which is a very low-level violation to start with,” he says. “And we can put more time into having the officers be in the neighborhoods and address some of the drug complaints we get.”
Alex says they haven’t heard complaints yet, but he expects them. The city sent out warning notices, and within two weeks, the program went live. Since it began on November 19, police issued slightly more than 650 citations, netting the city about $40,000 in three weeks.
To the Rendas, that feels like local officials looking for easy money. But to Alex and Smith, those figures indicate the severity of the problem.