A red-light camera keeps watch over the intersection of Route 83 and Riverside Road in Villa Park.
George LeClaire | Staff Photographer
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Lifesaver or Big Brother? It's a dichotomy that surfaced frequently during a Daily Herald investigation of the red-light camera explosion in the suburbs.
The "Seeing Red" series found cases of cameras at intersections with minimal crashes and showed that a majority of tickets go to drivers turning right on red without coming to a full stop, a maneuver many experts don't consider a safety hazard.
These findings dovetail with public concerns about whether cameras are being used as money makers and whether the $100 punishment fits the crime of rolling right. Yet, many municipal leaders and police counter that the cameras reduce accidents and add that if drivers would just follow the law, they wouldn't be fined.
Debate on the issue isn't limited to police and motorists. Within the law enforcement community, differences of opinion exist on the right-turn issue - and on the benefits of the surveillance program itself.
Here's a look at two divergent views by local police.
In a recent column found on the LawOfficer.com Web site, West Suburban police officer Mike Wasilewski writes that red-light cameras could cause diminished respect for law enforcement.
"It will not matter to the recipient of the ticket that the decision to install the camera was that of someone elected; they will blame the cops who actually issued the ticket," Wasilewski writes in the article.
"And yes, we know it is our job to hold people accountable to the law and that job is not about winning a popularity contest. Got it. Nonetheless, earning a degree of respect and trust within the community is also important."
Wasilewski goes on to say that, "Law enforcement is best practiced face-to-face. A traffic stop is an interaction between cop and citizen. If you have worked the street for more than a few weeks, you have learned that traffic enforcement is more than just traffic enforcement. Drunks and suspended drivers are arrested, warrants are served, guns and drugs seized, intelligence gathered and your work is made highly visible."
He adds, "if revenue can be raised and costs cut, will the politicians see cops as an expense to trim wherever possible? Will their infatuation with enforcement through technology inadvertently lead to compromised safety of their communities and police departments?"
Taking another view is Roselle Deputy Police Chief Jimmy Lee, who wrote an article in the village's newsletter this month. Lee firmly believes cameras make the public safer and protect officers from darting out in busy traffic to pursue red-light violators.
Lee also highlights another benefit involving a crash at Lake Street and Gary Avenue, saying a camera proved a motorist's innocence.
He describes an accident on May 26 resulting in injuries and major damage to two vehicles. An eye witness reported than an eastbound vehicle ran a red light and struck a left-turning vehicle proceeding on a green arrow. As a result, the alleged red-light runner got a ticket.
However, police asked for video from the camera and found a different story. The video showed the left-turning driver failed to yield to traffic while the ticketed motorist was going through the intersection legally on a green light.
"The video evidence clearly defined who was directly responsible for causing the crash, and as a result, the police were able to correct the report and dismiss the erroneous ticket," Lee wrote.
He concludes, "The benefits of automated red-light enforcement cameras go beyond simply issuing tickets to motorists failing to obey traffic signals. The presence of the cameras cause motorists to be aware and obey traffic safety laws and as proven by this incident, can serve as impartial witnesses too."