Feds Probe Red-Light Camera Corruption in Illinois, Legislators Back Ban

Published February 14, 2020

Several Illinois state legislators are backing bills to ban red-light cameras statewide as the FBI and IRS probe public corruption in the Prairie State related to a camera-system vendor.

Red light cameras are automated devices that photograph vehicles that fail to stop at a red light. The systems generate a citation to the vehicle’s owner, and the revenue generated by fines is split between the local municipal government and the vendor.

Across the United States, 341 communities use red-light cameras, including 68 municipalities in Illinois, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Multiple Ban Bills

Three bills that would bar local governments from contracting with companies that install and maintain red-light cameras were introduced in the Illinois House in 2019. Carroll signed on as a cosponsor of  H.B. 3927, which was previously introduced by Rep. Kambium Buckner (D-Chicago), on November 6.

State Reps. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) and Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) introduced a bill, H.B. 3909, that had seven additional cosponsors as of November 5, and state Reps. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills), and Jonathan Carroll (D-Buffalo Grove) introduced H.B. 323, which had seven additional cosponsors as of November 4.

The Illinois Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill, S.B. 1297, that would order the state Department of Transportation to study the issue of automated traffic law enforcement systems, but it was not considered by the full Senate before the chamber adjourned for the year on November 14.

Feds Probe Corruption

State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), who previously quit as head of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, resigned from office effective January 1, 2020, State Board of Elections officials announced on November 27.

The FBI and IRS raided Sandoval’s offices in connection with an investigation of SafeSpeed LLC, a red-light camera company operating in Illinois that contributed to his campaign, in September. Federal agents also raided the offices of several municipal governments in Illinois.

SafeSpeed hired other public officials as part-time sales representatives for the firm. The practice is not illegal in Illinois, though officials are required to report such activities to the government.

A federal investigation of a previous red-light camera vendor for the city of Chicago, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., resulted in convictions of both company and public officials.

‘A Pure Cash Grab’

Red light photo-enforcement raised more than $1 billion in fines from drivers for Chicago and other local governments in Illinois from 2008 to 2018, states an analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) published in October. The data were collected through hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests, IPI says.

“Annual revenue from red-light camera tickets in Illinois more than doubled from 2008 to 2018,” an IPI press release stated. “This was driven by a rapid increase in cameras for local governments outside Chicago. … The Chicago suburbs generated almost as much revenue from red-light cameras as the city of Chicago in 2018.”

Cities view the cameras as a way to generate more revenue, says Rep. Carroll.

“Red light cameras are a pure cash grab for municipalities,” Carroll said. “No one has been able to convince me otherwise.”

Mason C. Aberle ([email protected]) writes from Hillsdale, Michigan.

Official Connections

Illinois state Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D-Buffalo Grove): http://www.ilga.gov/house/Rep.asp?MemberID=2506

Internet Info

Joe Barnett, “Red Light Cameras Undermine the Rule of Law,” Budget & Tax News, September 20, 2019: https://heartland.org/news-opinion/news/red-light-cameras-undermine-the-rule-of-law