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Maywood now has fewer red light cameras today than it had just weeks ago, a development village officials are hoping might allow them to cut the cameras’ operating costs and realize some revenue gains from the technology.
At a July 26 regular meeting, the village’s Board of Trustees voted 5 to 1 to reduce the number of traffic cameras — the controversial red light technology used by law enforcement officials as photo evidence to decide whether or not to issue fines — from nine to five.
Mayor Edwenna Perkins voted against the measure while Trustee Henderson Yarbrough was absent.
The village now has two red light cameras along Roosevelt Rd., one at 9th Ave. and Madison St. and two at 1st Ave. and Washington Blvd. The latter two red light cameras will replace two that were operating at 9th and St. Charles.
A third camera at that intersection had been inoperable since a car struck the pole on which it was suspended several months ago, said Maywood Police Chief Vladimir Talley. A red light camera located on the east side of 9th Ave. and Madison will be eliminated.
Talley said the poles that held the eliminated red light cameras may be used for other purposes. For instance, he noted, they have the ability to supply energy to regular skycameras, which, unlike traffic cameras, are used strictly for surveillance purposes and aren’t enforcement tools that police can use to ticket and fine drivers.
“That’s actually my intent,” Talley said in a recent interview when asked about the poles. “I have assigned Commander Sonja Horn to investigate options with companies that can look at our infrastructure and give us some rates for skycams that are affordable for the village.”
Talley, who said he’s looking to install an additional four surveillance cameras to the poles that once held red light cameras, noted that the village currently has 69 surveillance cameras. Many, however, haven’t been working for months.
The relationship between the village board and the company responsible for maintaining the camera system, Current Technologies, has soured ever since board members discovered that the village was paying money for a maintenance agreement that the company wasn’t upholding.
Talley said he recommended that the village reduce the number of red light cameras because it wasn’t generating any ticket revenue of its own and the several of the cameras were installed in places where they weren’t particularly useful.
The cameras are part of an automatic traffic law enforcement system operated and maintained by American Traffic Solutions, a private firm based in Mesa, Arizona that has contracts with hundreds of municipalities across the country to provide various traffic safety services and technologies.
The red light cameras, Maywood officials say, don’t cost the village anything; however, since the cameras were first installed in 2008, they haven’t generated much in the way of revenue for the village.
At a July 20 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting where the issue was discussed, Lanya Satchell, Maywood’s finance director, noted that most of the money from red light traffic fines generated in Maywood has gone to ATS.
At nearly $5,000 per camera per month, the village would’ve had to generate more than $500,000 in traffic fine revenue in order to cover the cost of the ATS system. That, officials say, just wasn’t happening.
So, although the village wasn’t paying for the red light cameras, it wasn’t making any money from them, either. In fact, officials added, the traffic system’s operating costs had outpaced the village’s ability to realize any revenue of its own by around $250,000.
In addition to the board voting to nearly halve the number of red light cameras, it also voted to renew a contract with ATS that Talley said would eventually benefit the village.
As part of the four-year contract, ATS agreed to wipe out the village’s negative $250,000 operating balance and to readjust the monthly payments for the cameras from around $5,000 a month to $4,200 a month.
Talley said the lower annual cost, the village’s decision to reduce the number of traffic cameras to four and the decision to switch some cameras to areas where they’ll generate more traffic fines should allow the village to realize revenue from the camera system for the first time in a long time.
With the village now out of a $250,000 hole with ATS, if it can generate roughly $200,000 in traffic fines — money that automatically goes to pay ATS — any revenue beyond that goes into Maywood’s coffers.
Talley said that the reason many of the village’s red light cameras were put in areas where they weren’t necessarily needed, and thus not generating much revenue from traffic fines, was because the traffic model that ATS used to strategically place the cameras throughout town was off.
“When ATS first brought the idea for the the cameras to the village in 2008, they were using a first-generation traffic model that was off, because there were a lot of construction projects going on in town that changed the normal traffic pattern,” Talley said. “By the time the company came in to install the cameras, the traffic patterns changed.”
Talley said that there were multiple red light cameras near 9th Ave. and St. Charles even though there wasn’t sufficient traffic in the area to justify the cameras being there. Talley said, in 2008, five cameras were installed before an additional four were installed in 2013. The installations, however, took place without the company consulting with the police department.
“The police never really had a say in where those cameras would be at,” Talley said, adding that the lack of communication in 2013 may have been due to personnel changes. That year, the village elected a new mayor and both the village manager and the police chief announced that they would be retiring. Talley was hired in November of that year.
“When I got in, I took a look at where the highest patterns of traffic incidents were,” Talley said. “We looked into the red light camera issue and saw we weren’t getting a lot of good data out of those cameras. The opportunity came up to (make some changes) when we were nearing the end of our contract. I worked with ATS and they were very amenable and cooperative.”
The red light camera technology has come under fire across the country for what one Florida newspaper noted is the tendency among local governments and private vendors like ATS to use the cameras merely as a means to generating revenue.
“There’s plenty of evidence nationwide to support that, such as governments shortening yellow-light times to trigger more violations, and thus increase the number of tickets issued,” the paper noted.
And just recently, Cook County Clerk David Orr condemned Chicago’s Red Light Camera program as “corrupt” in the wake of reports suggesting that the city manipulated its red light cameras to prey on motorists.
Talley said that studies have shown that the cameras actually increase the safety of motorists and pedestrians. He cited a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that, after looking at data from 14 cities between 2010 and 2014, found that “the rate of fatal red-light running crashes jumped 30 percent compared with the expected rate had cameras remained in use.” VFP
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