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The front cover of the 2015 Red Light Safety Program Report.
The front cover of the 2015 Red Light Safety Program Report.

By Victoria Espinoza

The results are in for the 2015 Red Light Safety Program Annual Report — the most recent report to date — but there are still questions to be asked. The report, released in April, showed in 2015 a total of $31 million in gross revenue was collected from the program for citations issued from the start of the program in 2010 but paid in 2015 — a drop of some $1.9 million from the previous year.

However, an entire section is missing on accident data, which in years past indicated how many accidents occurred from right angles, rear ends, accidents that involved injury, what intersections they occurred at and more.

“It’s a disgrace,” Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said in a phone interview. “They say it’s coming — but they won’t even tell us who prepares the report.”

Trotta is not the only person to raise this concern.

Personal injury lawyer David Raimondo, based in Lake Grove, agreed not knowing what company prepares the report is a red flag. He has worked on several injury lawsuits having to do with red light camera intersections and has filed a Freedom of Information Law request to discover what company creates the current annual reports on the program. Just last month he called for a federal investigation into the program.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta goes over legislation to suspend the camera program. Photo by Phil Corso

“We don’t know who makes the report, they [Suffolk County government] claim the data used is correct, but I’m challenging that right now because I don’t think their data is accurate,” he said.

The county executive’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Every annual report has the Suffolk County seal on the cover as well as the seal of the county’s office of Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. All services in maintaining, operating and managing the red light cameras are done by Xerox, a corporation that entered into a contract with Suffolk County. Xerox provides a monthly invoice to the county for contractual requirements, and according to the study was paid $9.4 million that year. But it’s still unclear which entity condenses the raw data and creates the annual reports.

Raimondo also took issue with an article from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety referenced in the 2015 report. “Red light cameras installed at intersections reduced the number of fatalities due to crashes at these intersections … there was a steep increase in fatalities at intersections that removed red light cameras,” the report stated.

The article also included data from 57 cities throughout the country between 1992 and 2014, comparing trends in fatal crash rates in those cities with trends in 33 cities that never had cameras.

The lawyer called the article “propaganda,” and said he has worked with many scientists and engineer experts who confirm red light camera programs do not reduce fatalities.

Another problem with the Suffolk County study, Raimondo said, is it does not include data on accidents involving bicyclists or pedestrians.

“Every single intersection with a camera and a crosswalk needs a report,” he said.

Red light cameras are placed in two types of intersections: New York State intersections, where a state road meets a state, county or town road; and non-state intersections, where a county road meets a county or town road. According to the report, intersections are chosen based on where the cameras would yield the highest safety result, but Raimondo doesn’t buy that.

“It’s an insult to the residents.” — Rob Trotta

“They’re putting them in areas with the highest volume of people who don’t want to go to court and can afford to pay the ticket,” he said. “They’re targeting middle class people. It’s a real racketeering operation, it’s enterprise corruption.”

Trotta echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a sham,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a 63 percent tax increase on resident’s general fund tax, except this way the Suffolk County executive can say he didn’t raise it — but in actuality he did and it’s absurd. He [Steve Bellone (D)] thinks the people of Suffolk County are idiots. It’s an insult to the residents.”

According to the report released last month analyzing the 2015 data, 352,472 red light camera fines were paid in 2015, including payments immediately after first notice of a ticket and court-related fines. This has led to more than $17.6 million in gross fine revenues for the year ($19 million in 2014 on 380,809 fines paid). These fines and fees are deposited directly into a Suffolk County comptroller’s account, according to the report.

Some areas across Suffolk County saw more red light camera incidents recorded and tickets issued in 2015, but others stayed at a steady rate or saw a decrease.

The study details how many incidents a red light camera intersection tracks in a certain year, as well as how many tickets are issued from those incidents.

In 2015 in Huntington Station on Oakwood Road, a huge 73,217 red light camera incidents were noted, with 3,741 tickets issued, compared to 9,773 incidents noted and 602 tickets issued in 2014. Lake Grove had 86,343 incidents with 4,636 tickets issued in 2014, and the next year that number jumped to 106,145 incidents yet saw a drop in tickets to 4,435. In East Setauket on Route 347, more than 1,000 incidents were recorded than the prior year at 37,594, however 45 fewer tickets were issued at 1,838. On Miller Place Road, 117,016 incidents were recorded in 2014, with 7,055 tickets issued, and in 2015 there was a drop in incidents tracked at 113,915, with 6,088 tickets issued.

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If you have had enough of politics and pundits this week, come with me for a nostalgic trip through the golden age of Broadway musicals. I was carried back to those heady days of the 1950s by a recent New York Times article about the lost art of sneaking in for the second act, impossible today due to post-9/11 security. Now I don’t know if you have ever indulged in this type of larcenous activity, so I will explain how it worked — at least for me and my merry little band.

I attended junior high and high school at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The subway was right at the corner of our Gothic-style building. This is important information for you to know in order to follow our exploits. The other bit of vital info is that our school day officially ended each afternoon at 2 p.m., rather than the usual 3 p.m. for the rest of the schools under the New York City Board of Education’s auspices.

Shortly after I started in seventh grade, I fell in with a happy group of kids who lived across town, on the Upper West Side. While that was decades away from what we know today as the highly cultured and worldly UWS, nonetheless these kids were a lot more culturally savvy than I was. Every Wednesday, which is of course matinee day, they would slip out of our last class some 15 minutes early, slither quietly through the side door of the school and make a beeline for the subway stairs 20 feet away.

Somehow I came to be included in this precocious group. We would ride the local to 59th Street, descend to the lowest level of the station, which in those days housed the BMT line, ride it through Midtown to 49th Street and Broadway and arrive at the predetermined show of our choice just as intermission was ending and the smokers were returning to their seats for the second act.

No one ever checked the tickets for the second act in those days. And there were always empty seats sprinkled throughout the theater that we claimed for our own. If the real seat owner arrived, most often the usher would help us find another seat since it was fairly common practice for young people to move closer to the stage in those days if there was opportunity. I doubt the ushers realized they were helping scofflaws.

In this way, I saw some of the most famous plays with their original casts during what turned out to be the most memorable period of American musical theater. Of course I didn’t know that then, I just knew I was having a fine old time and we didn’t even have to pay the subway fare because we had student passes.

Of course I never told my parents what we were doing every Wednesday afternoon, and somehow we never got caught leaving school early. Perhaps the faculty understood where we were going and thought it more important than the last 15 minutes of classes.

But my parents may have wondered from time to time because I seemed too knowledgeable about the current musicals, their actors and composers. There were the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics: “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” (the latter two with Mary Martin); Frank Loesser and his “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “West Side Story” and Chita Rivera; Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Gene Kelly and Gwen Verdon; Irving Berlin and Cole Porter — they were all in my world.

And then there was the best of the best, its eloquence, melody, intelligence and heart standing at the head of those magnificent musicals, Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” I can still hear the music, with its clever lyrics, playing in my head. Led by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, it was the longest running show on Broadway for years thereafter. And we saw them all — at least by half.

File photo by Erika Karp

The Suffolk County Legislature is looking to put the brakes on its “pay now, or else” approach when it comes to fines levied to ticketed drivers.

Lawmakers have tasked the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency with developing a payment program for the fines it levies to motorists within 90 days. If approved by the Legislature, the plan could allow nonmoving violators to pay their fines in installments, rather than the current system which requires one lump sum, due immediately.

It all started when Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she was approached by one of her constituents who claimed to be threatened with a driver’s license suspension if he did not pay his nonmoving ticket fine in one full installment.

“The revocation of a driver’s license should be reserved for violators who endanger public safety, not for someone unable to pay a fine on the day it is imposed,” she said.

The county currently has close to $2.3 million in outstanding tickets, lawmakers said. Hahn said that unpaid fines, fees and surcharges associated with parking tickets are often not collected or prove costly to collect and can result in lost revenue for the county government and taxpayers. A payment plan option, Hahn added, is a win-win, because it helps struggling Suffolk County citizens meet their obligations to both their families and to the county.

“A deterrent should never become a detriment, nor should the sting of a ticket ever become the hunger pains of a child,” Hahn said. “While these fines are supposed to serve as a financial deterrent to behavior that puts the public at risk, when unaffordable penalties are imposed and become due immediately, our residents are forced to make decisions that are counter to our values and to the public interest.”

County Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who serves as chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said punitive measures are intended to be teaching moments, rather than a road to economic ruin. She applauded the steps the county was taking in allowing ticketed motorists more time to pay fines.

“I congratulate Legislator Hahn for bringing this issue forward,” Browning said. “As a co-sponsor of the bill, I agree that no one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table for their family or paying a fine. Failure to pay causes a person to have a suspended license and potentially lose their employment. A payment plan for middle and low income residents will benefit the resident and the agency.“

Violators cited in New York City have the option of paying fines through an installment plan which requires that a portion of the fee be paid at the time of conviction, followed by monthly payments, with a 9 percent interest charge until the debt is paid in full. Suffolk’s eventual plan may take a similar form as the SCTPVA develops its own program, Hahn said.

The directive to the SCTPVA now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for final approval. Then, once the SCTPVA develops its plan, the Legislature will have an opportunity to evaluate the proposal and decide whether to implement it.

“Punishment without mercy does not serve this county or its residents,” Hahn said. “I encourage the county executive to sign this bill as it advances the central tenant of fairness in justice.”

Steve McCoy and Suzanne Mason star in ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman, Franklin Inc.

Port Jefferson Village residents can score free tickets to see the musical “Sweeney Todd” at Theatre Three on Main Street.

Residents with a valid ID can pick up tickets at the village recreation department office, on the second floor of the Village Center, as supplies last. The tickets are available for two Thursday night shows: Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.

Call 631-802-2160 for more info.

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