When considering school zone speed camera vendors, buyer beware | Opinion

School-zone photo speed enforcement is now legal in Florida after bi-partisan legislation passed earlier this year. The city of Eustis is proud to have signed the first contract in the state just days after the law went into effect.

When selecting a vendor to implement our camera system, we exercised due diligence and care. As counties and municipalities across the state undergo the same important deliberations, as reported by Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks in his Sept. 13 story, “Automated speeding tickets probably coming soon to a school zone near you,” I’d like to offer our lessons learned.

Pricing: The first rule in pricing is don’t make it about pricing. Choose a vendor that offers us straight-up pricing and transparency. I hope we don’t make a dime from speed cameras — I want violations to go to zero. On the other hand, if revenue comes from this program, we wanted a contract where, regardless of the pricing structure, the city would get the majority of the revenue — not the vendor. It’s also important to read the fine print for hidden fees and “extras.”

Who’s behind the curtain? We wanted a partner that had control of the back-office process. Who designs and manufactures the equipment? Who processes the events? Who works on the equipment for maintenance and repairs? Choose a company that does everything themselves, preferably does it here in the United States. Some companies source their equipment and/or technology from foreign countries and even send their violation processing to foreign countries and third parties. Ensuring our program’s integrity and our citizens’ privacy was a must in our selection criteria.

Adherence to the law. Legislators did an excellent job with the law and wrote specific boundaries. One such boundary is the use of automated license-plate readers (ALPR). Some companies offer an ALPR “module,” which means they’re adding software to the speed camera to turn it into an ALPR camera. While ALPR has a role in enforcement, the law is clear that speed cameras cannot be used as “surveillance” cameras. Choose a vendor that does as well.

I have great hope for the school-zone speed camera program. It will help law enforcement be in more places and keep kids safe. However, government officials must be judicious and duly scrutinize vendors and their offerings. They’re not all the same.

Craig A. Capri is chief of the Eustis Police Department.