Police officers from Des Plaines and Rosemont gathered in City Hall last night to "clear misconceptions" and answer questions about the red light cameras that have been installed at the intersection of Rand and Golf Roads.
The Des Plaines Police Department strongly supports the red light cameras, saying they create safer roads and deter drivers from running red lights. If the program is successful at this intersection, city officials will consider installing cameras at other intersections.
"These cameras are all about public safety," said Des Plaines Deputy Chief Angela Burton, adding that the purpose of the program is to change unsafe driver behavior. Violators recorded by the red light cameras at the Rand and Golf Roads intersection will be ticketed beginning October 27.
Des Plaines police officers used data from traffic studies that showed red light running is a problem at several intersections in the city. Nationally, nearly 200,000 crashes and more than 800 deaths result from drivers going through red lights, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
City officials are hoping the program will encourage drivers to comply with the law and obey traffic signals. The intersection of Rand and Golf Roads was chosen because it was deemed one of Des Plaines' most unsafe intersections based on department statistics.
Critics say the program will cause more traffic accidents.
Alderman Jim Brookman, Fifth Ward, is one of the more vocal opponents of the red light cameras, saying they cause accidents by making people "hypersensitive" in traffic intersections.
"This is about money," Brookman said, noting that in this economy, a $100 ticket from the cameras can be tough on Des Plaines families. Brookman said he doesn't fault Des Plaines police officials with their decision, but that he is "philosophically" opposed to the program.
There are alternatives in making traffic intersections safer, such as lengthening yellow lights or re-engineering intersections so that all lights are red for a few seconds, Brookman said.
The Village of Rosemont currently has 6 operational cameras at high-risk intersections and has seen a nine percent decrease village-wide in traffic accidents, said Rosemont Police Sergeant Keith Kania. Accidents at River Road and Higgins Road, one of the intersections that has red light cameras, have decreased 73 percent, Kania added.
Mike Lebert, a sales representative with RedSpeed Illinois, said the cameras have a "proven track record" and in most cases, reduce accidents and violations 25 to 40 percent.
RedSpeed Illinois installed the red light cameras at the Golf and Rand Roads intersection, and will manage the operation of the lights. The company will not administer the tickets; rather, they will review the videos and forward likely violations to the Des Plaines Police Department. A trained officer at the department watches the videos and then determines whether a violation has occurred. After final reviews, RedSpeed Illinois mails tickets to violators, Lebert said.
"We are nothing more than the Des Plaines police chief's clerks," Lebert said.
The cameras have been installed and will start issuing warnings at the Golf and Rand Roads intersection on September 27. While the warnings are not tickets and do not cost money, they serve as a wake up call to unsafe drivers in that area, said Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini.
Statistics on the effectiveness of red light cameras is somewhat mixed. The Village of Lombard trustees voted to remove or deactivate their red light cameras earlier this month because they actually saw an increase in accidents at one of the intersections that had the cameras.
Lebert said results can vary based on camera location.
Des Plaines police officers and Lebert would not give estimates as to how much revenue the red light cameras at the Rand and Golf Roads intersection would bring in, saying that there was no way to know how many violations would occur and how many people would pay their tickets.
Des Plaines city officials say roads will be safer with the red-light cameras in place and that the city isn't trying to "nitpick" its citizens.
"We aren't going to do something stupid and start a program that will make us or the city look bad," Burton said.