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Kane County motorists who either love or hate red light cameras have a clear choice in the contest for county sheriff between incumbent Pat Perez and challenger Don Kramer.
Perez is an advocate of the cameras. Several months ago he brought a representative from a company that installs red light cameras to a county board meeting to pitch the idea of bringing the devices to some of the problematic intersections the county directly oversees. Adding cameras has been tabled for the time being while the county board reviews of the use of existing cameras and whether they have actually reduced the number of crashes at intersections as billed.
Perez said he still intends to seek cameras at the intersection of Randall and Red Gate roads in St. Charles and at Jericho Road and Route 47 in Sugar Grove if the county remains a fan of the devices.
"These cameras are all there for the benefit and safety of the people who use our motorways," Perez said. "A violation is a violation. There's not a big difference to me if there's an officer there or you're caught on camera."
Perez said he believes a lot of the public angst he's heard relates to communities that have used the cameras as a means to write unnecessary tickets. Those petty offenses include crossing a stop line before stopping and tickets for various aspects of turning right on a red light. Perez believes a happy medium must be reached on the use of cameras for legitimate violations that jeopardize the safety of motorists or pedestrians rather than writing meaningless tickets. Perez said a camera must show it's working as intended with periodic reviews that demonstrate at least a 10 percent reduction in crashes for there to be a reason to keep a camera in operation. Perez will keep an eye on pending state laws that could require such a statistical review before he revs up his push for cameras again. Until then, Perez said there is also added value to the cameras in terms of freeing up officers for other duties.
While Perez would like to have police officers doing the job of the cameras, he said the economy has made that impossible.
"I've lost personnel," Perez said. "It's definitely hindered my ability to have enough people out there to enforce traffic laws, let alone other laws. So these cameras are a force multiplier. The reality is if you obey the law you will never ever pay that $100 fine."
And that's part of the dividing line between Perez and his Republican opponent, Don Kramer. Kramer is concerned with red light cameras robbing people of the right to truly confront their accusers if they want to dispute the tickets. He's also not completely sold on the cameras because he believes they can, at times, create more conditions that cause crashes.
"Everybody has found themselves in that situation where you're driving and you ask yourself if there is enough time to get through before the red light or do you literally have to slam on the brakes at these cameras," Kramer said. "Doing that can cause your vehicle to go out of control. I would prefer to see officers monitoring the problem traffic lights at the day of the week and the time that crashes are typically occurring."
That said, Kramer recognizes officers can't be stationed at a problem intersection 24 hours a day. While he believes the cameras are most useful on congested city streets where traffic backs up, he has four ideas for how the cameras can be used better no matter the location.
First, all line of sight obstacles, such as trees, must be removed from intersections, and intersections reviewed at least once a year to ensure there are no pointless tickets for drivers stopping beyond stop lines simply because they can't see the intersection. Second, Kramer wants to see the stop lines moved back so a driver anxious for the green light doesn't jet into the intersection as soon a the light changes, but before traffic is clear. Third, Kramer wants to see a standard 5-second delay at problem intersections where both directions have red lights to allow all traffic to clear. Last, Kramer would like to see red lights be physically larger than the other intersection lights so it's clear to all drivers when the light is red.
Kramer believes much of the public angst over the cameras has to do with where the ticket revenue goes.
"You're seeing companies behind these red-light camera getting more than half the revenue, and I think that's why the public has a good argument against these cameras," Kramer said.
At intersections where there is a valid case for a camera, he'd like to see the county use its in-house technology experts to develop the camera system and save money. But Kramer said the cameras should never be thought of as a force multiplier or as a replacement for actual policing.
"If you have a good traffic unit that writes good tickets, there is enough revenue in the amount of tickets that are written to subsidize the traffic division," Kramer said. "It's instrumental that the officers are seen out in the public. That's a primary deterrent in and of itself. You're supposed to be there for the public. That's an important relationship. Instead you have these cameras, and I don't think the public likes what they see. If the public is rejecting this, I don't think it's a good idea to force it on them."