Tags Posts tagged with "Red Light Camera"

Red Light Camera

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In 2010, Suffolk County hired a contractor to install cameras at certain dangerous, traffic-light intersections with the expressed purpose of improving public safety, since running red lights is a major cause of crashes, injuries and death. Currently, 100 camera locations are used for traffic light enforcement in Suffolk County.

To say those cameras have been controversial is an incredible understatement. In theory, if people were automatically issued traffic tickets when cameras detect violations, then people would be less likely to run a red light. However, the effectiveness of the program is hotly debated, both nationally, as well as locally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different research methods, when applied, have been used to draw different conclusions. This is the case in Suffolk County, where a recent $250,000 study showed accidents actually increased by about 60 percent at the intersections with cameras, while the number of crashes with injuries decreased, and the total number of fatalities remained the same.

Despite conclusive findings, the study’s author, L.K. McLean Associates of Brookhaven, has recommended that legislators continue the program, because the combined statistics of fatalities and injuries decreased overall. The Republican caucus disagrees. They call the program “a money grab.”

The issue, though, is not totally partisan. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she was extremely underwhelmed with the report, saying it gave no indication that the cameras prevented crashes.

The county explicitly states on its website that making money is not the main purpose of the camera program: “The goal of photo enforcement is to deter violators, not catch them.”

But the program in nine years has generated about $190 million.

Under the current system, violators pay a $50 fine, when a camera catches them running a red light, plus a $30 administration fee, plus $25, if violations are paid late. According to contract terms, the county’s vendor Conduent gets 42 percent of citation revenue. In 2018, for example, the county is estimated to receive $27.5 million from the program with $8.8 million being fees for services, most of which are going to Conduent. The balance of the revenue is transferred into a police district account and is used to finance its operations.

The red-light issue should not be political — it should be about public safety. Without clear safety data to justify its existence, we at TBR News Media believe the program should be discontinued at the end of 2019.

If there is a financial benefit to the program for the police district, these interests should be made more apparent, so the public good is understood. If revenue is in fact driving support for this program, then the county needs to compare multiple vendor offers. A 42 percent share of revenue paid to an outside vendor seems incredibly high. So is the program’s administration fee, which is estimated at $9.5 million for 2018. It’s unclear what this fee is for exactly. The county needs more transparency on this topic.

The outcome of the Sept. 4 county vote was not available by press time.

Suffolk County's Public Works Committee will vote Aug. 29 to decide the future of red-light camera program. TBR News Media file photo

When it comes to Suffolk County’s red light camera program, Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he’s seen enough.

Trotta took to the intersection of Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack on Monday to call on the county to pull the emergency brake on its red light camera initiative and reevaluate, citing an increase in traffic crashes with injuries at that location.

The legislator picked the Indian Head Road red light camera location because the county’s 2014 Red Light Safety Program report showed crashes with injuries had gone up more than 100 percent there, making it a prime spot to prove Trotta’s point. The annual report said the yearly average of reported crashes with injury went from 8.7 before the camera’s installation to 19.3 after. The camera at that intersection was installed in January 2014, giving the 2014 report 11 months of traffic data to work with while comparing it to traffic patterns recorded over three years between 2007 and 2009.

Back in October, Trotta joined with other Republican lawmakers from Suffolk County to solicit input from the public about the red light camera program. At the time, he said residents alerted him about an increase in rear-end crashes since people were stopping abruptly at yellow lights to avoid being ticketed. The 2014 annual report on the red light program proved that notion.

According to the report, rear-end crashes increased by 42 percent since the cameras were installed.

“Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has turned the residents of Smithtown into crash test dummies,” Trotta said on Monday. “This is just another example of [the Bellone administration’s] attempt to raise revenues through ‘taxation by citation.’”

However, the county’s Red Light Safety Program was enacted in 2009 — years before Bellone assumed the county executive position in 2012.

The annual report said the county collected $27.5 million in citation payments in 2014 and paid $9.5 million to the vendor to operate the program. The net proceeds were credited to the county’s general fund.

Backing up Trotta was Lawrence Zacarese, assistant chief of police and director of the Office of Emergency Management at Stony Brook University. In his remarks, speaking as a paramedic who has served Suffolk for decades, Zacarese said the Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike intersection was a dangerous spot in Commack and red light cameras only made it worse by forcing drivers to jam on their brakes at yellow lights in order to avoid tickets.

“People are confused,” he said. “The data shows that clearly.”

Paul Margiotta, executive director of the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, defended the county’s program while citing the report’s evidence of decreasing crash figures coupled with increasing trends of distracted drivers.

“The Suffolk County red light camera program has reduced crashes involving injuries at intersections with cameras and dramatically reduced right-angle crashes, which have the highest potential for serious injuries or even fatalities, by more than 20 percent,” he said. “Intersections with red light cameras on average are safer than intersections without cameras. Unfortunately, crashes throughout all of Suffolk County have increased, primarily because of distracted driving which has more than doubled since just 2012. It is clear that Suffolk County needs to do more, not less, to address traffic safety.”

At intersections where cameras were installed, overall crashes decreased by 3 percent, right-angle crashes went down by 21 percent and crashes involving injury decreased 4 percent, according to the county report.

Trotta’s pleas came on the same day repeat offender Stephen Ruth, of Centereach, was arrested for allegedly tampering with 19 of the cameras throughout the county.

Ruth was first cuffed in August for allegedly using a pole to reach several red light cameras in Ronkonkoma and turn their lenses away from the road and toward the sky. He was charged with criminal tampering and obstructing governmental administration.

Police said Ruth “cut wires and manipulated equipment” on 18 of those cameras between April 9 and 10. The 19th camera incident in question dates back to Jan. 18, police said, when Ruth allegedly cut down a camera pole at the intersection of County Road 83 and Old Town Road in Coram.

According to a police estimate, the incidents caused at least $25,000 of damage.

Ruth, 43, has been charged with two felony counts of second-degree criminal mischief. Hauppauge-based attorneys William J. Keahon and Craig Fleischer are representing him on those charges but are not commenting on the case, according to their law office.

Ruth’s arrest comes about a week after another man was arrested for allegedly tampering with red light cameras. Bryan Valentine, of St. James, has been charged with two counts of second-degree criminal tampering after police said the 26-year-old placed plastic bags over red light cameras at the signal in the Main Street and Landing Avenue intersection in Smithtown.

Attorney information for Valentine was not available.

In interviews Ruth — whom his supporters have dubbed the “Red Light Robin Hood” — has stood behind his actions. He has received praise from people who oppose the county’s red light camera program and say it is simply a money grab, as the county receives much revenue from the tickets generated.

Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD

Police arrested a Centereach man on Tuesday afternoon who they say used a pole to turn red light cameras away from the road and potential violators.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the suspect used an expandable pole to tamper with the cameras, pushing the lenses toward the sky. Officers from the SCPD’s 6th Precinct Crime Section received anonymous tips regarding a video post on social media that allegedly shows 42-year-old Stephen Ruth tampering with several of the cameras in Ronkonkoma, including one on Ocean Avenue at the Long Island Expressway’s south service road on both Aug. 21 and Aug. 24. Shortly before being arrested on Tuesday afternoon, he also allegedly tampered with two other cameras on that same service road, at the intersection with Hawkins Avenue.

After an investigation, officers arrested Ruth at his home on Stewart Circle.

He was charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration.

Attorney information for Ruth was not immediately available on Wednesday.

The red light cameras, which are maintained by Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Incorporated, take photographs at busy intersections throughout Suffolk County, recording license plates of vehicles whose drivers run through a red light or do not come to a complete stop before making a right turn on a red signal. The company reviews the photos snapped — and gets final approval from the county — and for each confirmed violation, the registered owner of the vehicle receives a $50 traffic citation.

Suffolk’s red light camera program began in summer 2010, and signs alert approaching drivers at every intersection where there is a camera.

Unlike other moving violations, red light camera violations do not add points to a driver’s license, as the cameras only record rear license plates and cannot confirm the driver of a violating vehicle.