Suffolk Democratic legislators approved a six-month study on the safety of red light camera sites in a tense committee meeting Monday after blocking a GOP effort to suspend the program Jan. 1 until a review is done.
The public works committee voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution sponsored by Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). The vote came after a 3 1⁄2 hour meeting dominated by partisan bickering. Officials later said Anker’s proposal, along with a $250,000 emergency resolution to fund the study, is set for a vote before the full legislature Tuesday.
Anker’s bill surfaced after Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), GOP caucus leader, filed a bill to suspend the red light cameras, which bring in $31 million in ticket revenue annually. Republicans call the program a “money grab” rather than a safety program.
A report released in July showed that accidents at camera sites decreased 5 percent overall in 2015, but also showed that in the same year, rear-end collisions rose 30 percent and accidents increased at 46 of the 100 locations.
Last Thursday, GOP legislators held a news conference at the busy Miller Place intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road to push for suspension of red light cameras. They said the report was skewed and didn’t include pedestrian and traffic deaths.
The father of a 16-year-old boy struck and killed in 2015 walking across the intersection attended the news conference.
Anker said Monday she has concerns about cameras’ safety “but this study will get to the bottom of it. But what I find deplorable is that some legislators and political candidates are using the death of a child when police reports and investigations found it had nothing to do with red light cameras.”
McCaffrey said he was disappointed by the vote, noting that several camera locations have already proved to be inappropriate and he feared Democrats “will let the study go on and on longer than it’s needed to keep the revenues rolling in.”
Public works officials and a county consultant testified Monday in response to the GOP news conference last week.
Russell Scott, a partner in Nelson and Pope, which did the July report, said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) “misunderstood the conversation” they had about statistics. He said while traffic reports after 2013 don’t include an addendum listing 15 separate accident categories, including bike and walker accidents, those numbers were in the accident summary.
An irate Trotta challenged Scott’s recollection, asking “can we swear him in?” and questioned whether he should “speak to an attorney.”
William Hillman, deputy public works commissioner, disputed claims of critics that yellow light times at camera intersections were cut to boost ticket revenues. He said no yellow lights were shortened and several times actually increased when the program started, though he could not say how many.
Camera critic James Emanuele, a former police officer from Smithtown, said he had “no hope the red light cameras program will go no matter how many people are hurt . . . until the Democratic majority is changed.”
However, Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), committee chairman, later noted the program was first approved by a unanimous vote of both Republicans and Democrats.
“This has become a political pander because it’s a political year,” said term-limited Legis. Kate Browning of Shirley who recently switched from Working Families Party to Democrat. “This will give us an educated study rather than pander to people who have gotten tickets.”