by Brian Costin
Director of Government Reform
Since the city of Chicago began Illinois’ first red light enforcement program in 2003, red light cameras have been a source of much controversy in the state.
A number of Illinois cities, including Naperville and Schaumburg, have already shut down their red light camera programs after complaints from the community and questions about the program’s effectiveness in reducing accidents.
The controversy surrounding red light cameras has continued during the last few weeks.
Shortly after southwest suburban Justice selected SafeSpeed, a red light camera vendor, to implement its new photo enforcement program, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed Justice’s Police Chief Robert Gedville sent solicitation emails to more than 50 suburban Chicago police chiefs as a “consultant” on behalf of SafeSpeed.
In the email, Chief Gedville wrote:
“The business model utilized by SafeSpeed offered a substantial stream of revenue to the client while providing the state of the art equipment needed to reduce the number of crashes at intersections."
I thought red light cameras were just about safety, not money. So why does Chief Gedville talk about red light cameras as revenue providers? And is it ethical for a police chief to consult for the company his town just selected as a vendor?
Shortly after the Tribune story surfaced, Justice stripped Chief Gedville of his badge and placed him on indefinite paid administrative leave, pending a full investigation.
But the red light saga continues. Earlier this year the city of Chicago announced plans to expand its red light camera program to include speeding violations in areas near schools and parks. With potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, winning the new city of Chicago contract would be a lucrative deal.
Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tossed one company’s bid on Chicago’s red light camera expansion because of an ethics breach. Redflex, the bidding company, reportedly paid a luxury hotel tab for a city official in charge of the existing red light contract. Redflex did not report the ethics breach until after the Chicago Tribune inquired about the incident nearly two years later.
With a dubious public safety record, red light camera programs are already suspected by many citizens to be a government money grab. These recent incidents have only raised more red flags.
The time is right for red light camera reform in Illinois.