ROCHESTER, NEW YORK – Over the past 18 months, city of Rochester employees have committed at least 119 red light violations while driving city vehicles, records show.
But while employees can be disciplined for the violation, “payment of the related fine will not be required,” according to a newly adopted city procedure for handling the violations.
One-third of the infractions were by police department vehicles, including one driven by Police Chief James Sheppard. These are not instances where squad cars are going through intersections with lights and sirens blaring. But Sheppard said most do involve emergency responses, and typically are rolling stops on right turns.
RocDocs: City vehicles ticketed | Map: Where are the red-light cameras?
PDF:City procedure for city-owned vehicles cited for red light violations
There also were violations by solid waste, building services, cemetery and library vehicles, according to data the Democrat and Chronicle obtained through an open records request.
“It’s definitely concerning that this many city vehicles are, in one way or another, in violation of the law around red lights,” said Deputy Mayor Leonard Redon. “This number is higher than any of us would have liked.”
Rochester launched its photo enforcement program in October 2010, and today has cameras at 29 intersections. Violators receive a $50 fine, which can escalate to $75 if not paid. Last week, the city warned vehicle owners with delinquent tickets that it planned to begin filing judgments come Monday and begin the collections process. The city issues about 9,000 violations per month.
The record of city vehicles with violations picks up in March 2011. City officials are at a loss to explain the clean slate during initial months. Other irregularities include eight violations recorded by animal services vehicles — all in a span of nine weeks this spring. There also was a stretch in April when city employees recorded 24 violations in 27 days.
Two vehicles — one in animal services and the other in solid waste — were ticketed four times. The data doesn’t show whether the same employees were driving each time.
Sheppard said he could not recall where he was headed or why when flagged for a red light violation on a Thursday afternoon in late July. Police expect to complete their review of all incidents by Monday. The city policy took effect July 1 but only was distributed to union leaders in recent weeks.
The infractions by police department vehicles include the animal services and security divisions.
Redon will get quarterly reports on violations and discipline, with the first due in mid-October. He said some employees already have faced discipline, which can escalate from a note in their file to suspension to termination. The disciplinary process varies by bargaining unit, Redon said. Those terms allow for assessment of damages up to $100 but do not address monetary fines, said Mike Mazzeo, president of the police union, who suspects any discipline will need to be negotiated.
“Initially when this was done, we were told all police vehicles will be exempt,” Mazzeo said, since they are emergency vehicles. “Now they come up with criteria that (the vehicle) has to be in emergency mode, or a marked vehicle, or responding to an emergency situation.”
The union already is upset that public safety aides, not police officers, review violations to determine whether tickets should be issued. And Mazzeo questioned the value of cameras, as intersections with cameras have yet to show a noticeable decline in violations.
As for the latest measure, he said: “We are going to have to spend how much manpower evaluating every situation? And I’m not sure what the point is. A city employee is the same as any citizen … well, a citizen is not working.”
But Sheppard said the review is worthwhile for the department to explain the incidents to the public.
Monroe County has a more simple practice when it comes to red light violations: If the employee is driving, he or she is responsible. Put another way, county spokesman Justin Feasel said: “It’s up to the employee to pay it.”
That was the city’s initial desire after discovering the mounting number of city vehicle tickets, Redon said. But officials discovered they were precluded from making such a demand under existing labor contracts.
Parking tickets are assessed in much the same way as red light violations — going to the vehicle owner, regardless of who is driving. In those instances the employee would receive the ticket, however, taking it off the windshield, whereas red light violations are processed and sent to the city.
On parking tickets, the city has no policy, Redon said. A percentage are excused “for valid business reasons,” and in other cases employees pay. In fact, “it looks like 90 percent of the time they get paid,” Redon said, adding the city might look to develop a policy on parking tickets as well.