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Suffolk panel stops bill to suspend red-light cameras

Michael McDermott, of Huntington, vents his frustration to

Michael McDermott, of Huntington, vents his frustration to Suffolk County legislators in Hauppauge on Thursday, May 26, 2016, as he talks about his objection of red light cameras during a Suffolk County legislature public safety committee meeting. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk legislative committee on Thursday stopped a bill that would have suspended the county’s red light camera program.

The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee voted 5 to 3 against a motion to move the bill to the full county legislature for a vote. The bill can’t get out of committee unless sponsor Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) can collect signatures from a majority of lawmakers.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) joined Republicans Leslie Kennedy of Nesconset and Tom Cilmi of Bay Shore in voting to pass the bill.

Red-light camera opponents shouted during the hearing and two were escorted out by sheriff’s deputies as county officials and lawmakers defended the program, which they said had improved public safety.

More than 20 opponents spoke against the cameras, compared with one supporter.

Committee chairwoman Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said, “I don’t disagree there are some serious issues and serious flaws.” But she said the program was passed by the legislature with safety in mind.

Trotta cited a recent county report that showed that injury accidents increased at 44 of the 100 intersections with cameras, compared with the three-year period before the program started in 2010. The county collected $33 million from the $80 tickets in 2014.

“The cameras are doing nothing but picking the pockets of the taxpayers,” Trotta said.

Spencer said opponents can’t be dismissed. “We have to do something,” he said.

Dawn Nappi, 46, of Holbrook, whose 14-year-old daughter Angelica died in a 2008 accident in Medford and who testified at the legislature earlier this month in favor of the program, said she now believes the cameras are more about revenue than safety.

She said she felt “manipulated” into supporting the camera by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s administration. County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Trotta had presented Nappi with misleading information.

Rachel Lugo, an advocate for highway safety from the Hauppauge-based EAC Network, spoke in support of the cameras. She said the cameras help improve safety on county roads, which she said are “increasingly dangerous” with issues like texting and distracted driving.

William Hillman, Suffolk’s chief engineer, said the county is in the process of reviewing accident data at the 42 intersections it controls. The state controls the other 58 intersections with cameras.

Also Thursday, Suffolk lawmakers heard a presentation about handheld speed cameras for officers that generate speeding tickets that are mailed to drivers. Representatives of the vendor, OptoTraffic, said the cameras could be deployed in school zones.

Administration officials have met with company representatives about the technology. “While it sounded interesting, there are no plans for implementation of the technology at this time,” Baird-Streeter said.

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