When Nassau County introduced speed cameras near local schools four years ago, then-County Executive Edward Mangano argued that the goal was increased safety. The cameras and the fines for the speeding tickets they generated would slow down drivers and make the roads safer for students.
The $30 million a year the cameras could generate for a county battling annual deficits in the $100 million range was not the point, Mangano claimed. But when the county mangled the rollout by turning on the cameras even before classes had begun and mailing out 400,000 tickets in three months representing $24 million in revenue, residents went ballistic. Less than four months after the program began, county legislators repealed it.
Four years later, school safety is a bigger issue than before, though the focus is more on gun attacks than too-fast driving. Mass shootings last year at schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, have led districts across Long Island to make schools safer. They’re arming guards, hardening vestibules, increasing staff training, limiting points of entry and introducing metal detectors.
All of this costs money. Parents and taxpayers are highly concerned about school security, but they are also concerned about high taxes.
And this is what makes Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s endorsement this week of bringing back speed cameras for schools and districts that want them a plausible concept. If all or a good chunk of the money generated by speed camera tickets were designated to increase security at the schools that opt in, the reboot of the program would make sense.
Although statistics show there has not been an epidemic of auto accidents near schools, most people on Long Island would agree that drivers frequently speed, often near schools. The cameras were not an evil idea, but they were sold dishonestly and implemented poorly. If limited to schools that want them and used to fund programs that could prevent or impede mass shootings, some communities might welcome the cameras.
Approval by the State Legislature would be necessary. And the state also could help by developing guidelines on best practices for school safety that could be implemented with the advice of police.
Do that and Nassau’s school speed camera-secure schools program could become a model of how to pay as you go.
— The editorial board