Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, gave their public backing Thursday to the latest attempt to pass a bill legalizing red light enforcement cameras in this city and a dozen other large Connecticut municipalities.
“In 2010, two families of Hartford Hospital employees grieved the loss of loved ones at the hands of motorists who disregarded the law and took lives in the process,” Segarra said at a press conference on a Retreat Avenue sidewalk outside Hartford Hospital, where the hospital's CEO and other top personnel stood by. The two fatal accidents happened on the street nearby, one of them involving a red-light violation, he and other officials said.
“For me,” Segarra said, “red light camera legislation is not about fining violators – it’s about implementing a measure that could potentially save lives.”
“I am grateful for the support of Governor [Dannel] Malloyon this important issue, and that both he and Mayor Segarra understand the need to use technology where we aren’t able to fight crime in traditional ways,” said Fonfara. “This is one more tool to make our community safer.”
“We’ve lost people who meant a great deal to us. And we owe it to their memories to make Retreat Avenue a safer place,” said Jeffrey Flaks, the hospital’s president and CEO.
The Hartford press conference came two weeks after a group of Democratic office-holders and activists from New Haven re-launched what has become a perennial – and so-far-unsuccessful – effort – to persuade Connecticut legislators to legalize use of automated cameras to issue traffic tickets to red-light violators at intersections.
This year’s legalization effort has the vocal support of Malloy, who calls the cameras a “highly appropriate” technology for fighting “bad behavior.” All the Democratic governor had said in his inaugural year of 2011 was that he’d be inclined to sign such legislation if it passed; he had supported the idea in his years as Stamford's mayor.
As in the past, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut says that it “remains steadfast in opposition to traffic light cameras” on the grounds that the devices invade citizens’ privacy and violate due-process rights by not letting a motorist charged with a violation face his or her accuser.
Last year, two red-light camera vendors spent a combined $126,000 on their unsuccessful lobbying campaign in Connecticut – with $84,000 of that coming from Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS). A top ATS lobbyist in Connecticut, P.J. Cimini, stood near the scene of the press conference Thursday but did not participate.
Last year’s unsuccessful bill would have authorized the cameras in the state's 13 municipalities with populations of 60,000. It put the fine at $124 per violation. Tickets would be issued by mail and would not count as a moving violation against a person’s driving record; in that sense they would be more like a parking fine.
Although the red-light cameras are used in hundreds of communities around the country – with ATS the vendor in about 300 of them – about a half-dozen states, including New Hampshire and Maine, have outlawed them. The city of Houston disconnected its red-light cameras last year, after voters rejected them.
Critics have said the cameras are less about safety than about cities and states trying to generate revenue by taking their split of the fines. Segarra said he isn't interested in any revenue other than what's required to cover “the cost of ... the cameras.” He said: “From my end, I’m not using it as a revenue mechanism. I’m simply doing it as a safety measure.”
Segarra's spokeswoman, Andrea Comer, said official police reports would be released on the two fatal accidents on Retreat Avenue that were mentioned at the press conference – but they weren't available later Thursday.
However, pending their eventual release, Comer did provide Hartford police press releases from 2010 on the two accidents; those news releases did not mention any details regarding red lights.