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Suffolk County red-light camera program decried at hearing

Stephen Ruth speaks out against the red-light camera

Stephen Ruth speaks out against the red-light camera program Tuesday during a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Suffolk County residents called on legislators Tuesday to let the red-light camera program expire, blaming the cameras for increased numbers of rear-end accidents, slower traffic and expensive fines — assertions program backers rebutted.

About three dozen residents spoke against the program during a public hearing on a proposal to extend it for five years. Some speakers called the program a “money grab” and a “scam,” and several said their cars were rear-ended after they stopped at yellow lights to avoid red-light tickets.

“I don’t see where these red-light cameras are helping anybody, except making money for the county,” said Sylvia Ditrowosky, of Cormack.

 Supporters said the program  had reduced the number of serious crashes, including T-bone collisions and fatal accidents. They blamed the rise in rear-end accidents on increasingly distracted drivers and said drivers should be prepared to stop at yellow lights.

“The question that is not being asked is, how many crashes would have occurred had photo enforcement not been deployed at these 100 intersections,” said Paul Margiotta, executive director the county’s traffic and parking violations agency.

Cameras were installed beginning in 2010. A recent study found that between 2014 and 2017, fatalities decreased at camera intersections, but total accidents increased by 60 percent.

The $250,000 study by L.K. McLean Associates said the cameras produced $5.12 million in savings by reducing deadly and serious crashes. Republican lawmakers questioned the conclusions and have called for the program to be suspended until L.K. McLean consultants respond to their questions.

At the hearing, critics of the program also said the cameras have been placed disproportionately in more low-income areas.

Margiotta said  said camera intersections were selected because they had the highest rates of cars running red lights.

Longtime red-light camera critic Stephen Ruth, who was convicted in 2017 of felony criminal mischief for cutting red-light camera wires, said it was “becoming more obvious to the people of Suffolk County that things won’t change until they take action, and I don’t mean here,” in the legislature.

“People are going to start ripping down cameras,” said Ruth, who has a sentencing hearing next month.

Later, Ruth was escorted out of the meeting by sheriff's deputies after audience members applauded him, causing a disruption of the hearing. 

Also Tuesday, county legislators:

  • Approved a $60-million contract with the nonprofit Hudson River Healthcare to operate eight county clinics for the next five years. HRH officials had said that without a new contract, at least two clinics could close.
  • Approved a $52.4 million, six-year contract for county corrections officers. Louis Viscusi, Correction Officers Association president, said dozens of officers have quit because of low pay. “It’s been a very tough time for us, and I’m glad we can put this past us and it’s more of a livable wage for new hires,” he said. Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) questioned how the county would pay for the contract, given its level of debt.
  • Tabled a resolution known as “Ban the Box” that would have prohibited employers from asking job applicants about past criminal records after some legislators expressed concern that the proposed legislation would not allow employers to ask about convictions until too late in the hiring process.

Also Tuesday, speakers at a public hearing expressed support for a proposal to ban the intentional release of lighter-than-air balloons.

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