Five years after red light cameras were installed in Suffolk County, North Shore officials are still examining the program’s effectiveness, as well as its purpose, by asking: Are the cameras a means of enhancing public safety or simply another source of income for the county?
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Republican Suffolk County Legislators Tom Muratore (Ronkonkoma); Robert Trotta (Fort Salonga); Leslie Kennedy (Nesconset); Tom Cilmi (Bay Shore); Tom Barraga (West Islip) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) addressed some of their concerns when they met to discuss potential reforms to the Red Light Safety Program.
The program was written into law in 2009 and installed red light cameras at up to 50 intersections in Suffolk County. The cameras were installed to capture the backs of the drivers’ cars, as opposed to the drivers themselves. Under the program, drivers who run through a red light face a $50 traffic violation but do not receive points against their license.
Prior to the press conference, Muratore said county Republicans were left in the dark regarding details surrounding the program, such as the duration of various lights. While there are three-second and five-second yellow and red lights, Muratore said it was impossible to identify which lights resided where.
Despite this, Muratore said he found the program relatively reasonable. The legislator said he voted in favor of the program, thinking this new technology would help avoid traffic accidents. But what he disagreed with, he said, was the county’s manipulating of administrative fees associated with the program.
“If you’re getting tens of thousands of tickets and you increase the fee by $5.00, you’re getting half a million to a million dollars, maybe more,” Muratore said in an interview. “That’s just money-grabbing right there.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) did not respond to requests seeking comment.
After Tuesday’s press conference in Riverhead, Trotta said he thinks the “money-grabbing” surpassed Bellone’s proposal to increase the administrative fee. He said the county has $2 billion worth of debt and claimed the program is nothing but an opportunity to collect money to help offset that.
According to Trotta, if the camera “does not produce 25 tickets in a 16-hour period, then the county has to pay $2,136.”
The money is a fixed monthly fee the county must pay the program’s contractor, Baltimore-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. According to an amendment to the program, the county must also pay an additional $17.25 for each paid citation generated from such enforcement system.
While public safety is a concern for many county officials, Trotta said he does not think there is a safety issue. Some Suffolk County residents also oppose the cameras, so much so that Stephen Ruth of Centereach used a pole to turn the cameras away from the road at various locations. He was arrested in August for tampering, and some hailed him as a “Red Light Robin Hood.” The defendant called the program “abusive.”
Muratore said the issue is not really people running red lights, but drivers’ timing when turning right on red. He said drivers should not receive a ticket for turning right on red when it is permitted, provided they came to a full stop: “They forget they have to stop and then go. There’s no three second rule or five second rule, it’s a full stop.”