NORTON — The DragonCam is nailing speeders left and right along Interstate 76.
Within the first 20 days of the city's new speed enforcement program — which involves an officer pointing the camera at vehicles from bridges over the highway and tickets later being mailed to violators — 3,219 motorists were caught driving above the speed limit.
At $200 a violation, that's $643,800 in civil fines mailed out in less than a month.
"I never thought in a million years that these are the numbers we would be getting," Police Chief John Dalessandro said.
Police racked up that many violations despite using the camera only three hours a day, six days a week.
Norton began using the DragonCam last month in an effort to slow down motorists and reduce the number of crashes on the highway, which has been under construction since 2016. Authorities have seen a big jump in accidents since the Ohio Department of Transportation launched an $80.4 million project to reconstruct and widen the highway to three lanes in each direction. Crashes along the six-mile stretch in Norton climbed from 83 in 2016 to 147 last year.
It isn't safe for police to use traditional radar on the highway because of the construction and concrete barriers that force eastbound traffic into narrow lanes. There's nowhere for police to pull over vehicles headed east.
The city inked a deal with Blue Line Solutions of Chattanooga, Tenn., to use the DragonCam, a combined laser and camera. The device, attached to an iPad, determines the speed of offenders, snaps a picture of the license plate and driver, and sends the information remotely to the company.
Speeders later receive civil violations through the mail. The fines do not affect licenses like regular police-issued tickets.
Norton receives 60 percent of the revenue generated, which amounts to $386,280 for the first 20 days.
The speed limit usually is 65 mph on the highway, but it's 55 mph in the lengthy construction zone. About 70,000 vehicles use the highway daily.
Police are issuing the fines to anyone caught going 65 mph or faster during the three-hour time period, which varies by day.
Dalessandro, who advocated for the program, said he has limited statistics available so far on it. The fastest speed recorded has been 88 mph. He also said that less than 3 percent of the violations were mailed to Norton residents.
Blue Line Solutions will provide him with a monthly report, but the DragonCam hasn't been used for a full calendar month yet. The police chief said he wants to be transparent with the information and will share it with City Council and with the general public on the police Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NortonOHPD/).
In general, he said he has heard positive comments about the program. The biggest complaint, he said, was that the city needed to use the laser on Sunday.
"I had a lot of people call and complain that they were on the expressway on Sunday and people were flying by them," the chief said.
Based on that feedback, Norton will start using the DragonCam on Sundays, beginning this weekend.
City Councilman Joe Kernan said he also has heard positive comments about the program.
"Most people have made comments like, 'It's about time,' and 'Why don't you bring those things out on my street?' " he said. "That's not our intent. This is a program for controlling speed during a time when it's too dangerous for police to do it."
City Councilman Dennis McGlone, who heads the council's safety committee, said the number of violations is staggering.
"It looks like we have a speed problem in that area," he said.
Some people on social media have accused the city of using the DragonCam to generate revenue, but city leaders said the program is about improving safety and not money. When the city council approved the deal with Blue Line Solutions, it also required the program to end when the construction ends on the highway. The work is slated to be completed next year.
The legislation calls for the first $250,000 collected to go to the police department to pay for the program and school resource officers, with additional money going for street improvements.
Councilman Dan Karant said there's no reason for motorists to get angry with the city if they receive a fine.
"They have to look at their lead foot," he said. "They just have to slow down and they don't get a ticket. What's so hard about that?"
The city will stop using the DragonCam soon when the construction season winds down for winter and the concrete barriers are removed. The camera will return in the spring when construction season begins again.
In the meantime, police are expected to be out on the highway enforcing the speed limit.
"I would just hope that as people are hearing about this that they begin to take note that we are really serious," Kernan said. "It's not because we need a source of income. It's because we want people to be safe driving through Norton."
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.