Lawmaker backs red light cameras in New Rochelle

City officials say the cameras will help enhance public safety and save the city money.

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As New Rochelle officials weigh red light cameras, they've already got a powerful backer for the initiative.

State Sen. George Latimer (D-Rye) supports the controversial traffic enforcement devices, and a spokesman said he would sponsor legislation in the Republican-controlled state Senate authorizing the city to install them, if asked.

Not that he has been asked to do so yet.

City Manager Charles Strome pitched the idea as part of the city's state legislative agenda for the upcoming session, which also includes a request to increase the local utility tax and other items requiring state approval. The cameras were recommended by a citizens committee exploring ways to generate more revenue and offset budget gaps.

"We're just being proactive," Strome said. "If we want to do it, we need to get state approval."

New Rochelle City Council members are expected to discuss the legislative agenda at Tuesday's regular meeting. If they decide to include the red light camera proposal in the 2013 agenda, it would be voted on at a special meeting the following Tuesday.

Mayor Noam Bramson said he wants to "see the case laid out" for installing the traffic-control devices before he will support the move. He plans to meet with city police officials to review traffic crash data from busy intersections.

"It would have to be justified, not just purely on a financial basis," he said. "If the police conclude that red light cameras would have a positive affect on public safety, then it's something that I would seriously consider."

City Councilman Jared Rice said the cameras could help improve traffic safety. "We have some busy intersections that could benefit from this program," he said.

Councilwoman Shari Rackman said she hasn't decided whether she will support the proposal, but she pointed out that New York City has reported a "substantial reduction" in accidents at intersections where traffic-control devices are installed.

"Just having them there causes drivers to be more cautious because they know they're going to get caught," she said.

Getting approval from the City Council would be the first step. The city also would have to identify intersections that meet the criteria for the cameras and get lawmakers to sponsor bills both in the state Assembly and Senate.

"Even if the Council approves it, we may find out that we don't have an intersection that qualifies," Strome said.

If the cameras are added, New Rochelle would join a handful of municipalities across the state using the controversial cameras, including Yonkers, which now has 56 cameras installed at 24 intersections.

The citations, at $50 apiece, have generated more than $7.8 million for Yonkers. Roughly $3 million of that has been paid to American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona-based company that operates the cameras for the city.

Proponents of the high-speed surveillance equipment -- used in 14 states nationwide -- say it has been shown to reduce red light violations and crashes at busy intersections. But the technology has drawn its share of critics, including libertarian groups who say the real purpose of the cameras is to fleece taxpayers.

In New York City -- which took in more than $235 million from 150 red light cameras in the past five years -- a group of ticketed motorists has filed a class-action suit against the city, alleging fraud. And Los Angeles ended its citywide red light camera program in 2012, citing a public backlash.

Running red lights led to crashes that killed 8,845 people in the United States from 2000 to 2009 -- that's one in 10 intersection fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Nearly two-thirds of those killed in the U.S. by red light violators in 2009 were occupants of other vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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