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Officials: Vandals disable red-light cameras in Nassau

Red-light cameras on Old Country Road and Ring

Red-light cameras on Old Country Road and Ring Road in East Garden City (Aug. 19, 2010) Credit: Charles Eckert

Red-light camera vandalism has struck in Nassau County.

Officials say that between 2 and 4 a.m. on Aug. 1 - almost one year after the county began using the cash-producing technology - someone armed with spray paint disabled 14 cameras. One also had its antenna damaged so that it couldn't relay photo images.

The vandal or vandals hit cameras at five intersections in Carle Place, East Garden City, East Meadow and Westbury. Police and county officials are investigating and reviewing tapes from the camera systems, which record at all times. No arrests have been made.

David Rich, assistant executive director of the county's Traffic & Parking Violations Agency, said the video frames vibrated strongly just before going dark, leading officials to believe that someone climbed the camera poles, which can be 16 feet high, to reach the target.

"You are looking at a nice street view and the next thing you see, it becomes all cloudy and black, and you can see the paint run down," Rich said. Camera poles are between 80 and 120 feet from the intersections they monitor.

An Arizona company's contract with the county allows two days to repair a camera that has become "nonfunctional," meaning it can't produce violations. Rich said the sprayed cameras were back in full service within 24 hours; the one with the disabled antenna within 48 hours.

The cameras have proved to be a cash bonanza for Nassau. The county took in $749,612 from red-light violations in 2009 given out by a law enforcement officer. In 2010, the cameras alone are projected to generate more than $13 million for the county.

Whether roads are safer is harder to measure, but county officials who back the cameras cite safety benefits. Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), a camera proponent, called damaging the cameras a "really horrible thing to do."

This is Nassau's first experience with red-light camera vandalism, but the cameras, and those designed to nab speeders, have been subject to mischief across the country. Cameras in New York City, which began its program in 1993, have been spray painted, shot with bullets and damaged with blowtorches.

Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, which opposes the cameras, said reaction to them has sometimes been humorous - such as someone wrapping them like presents around Christmas - and in one case tragic. A man in Arizona last year fired bullets at a speed camera service van, not knowing it was occupied, Baxter said, killing a technician inside.

The deep anger some people feel toward the cameras is not only about money, Baxter said.

"There is a pretty strong undertone about privacy issues," he said. "People don't like the fact that their comings and goings are being monitored to the extent that they are."

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