Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Sen. John Fonfara threw their support behind legislation to legalize red light enforcement cameras Thursday, bringing the annual New Haven issue to the capital city.
At a press conference held at a dangerous intersection near Hartford Hospital, Segarra said the cameras would be used to make Hartford streets safer, not generate revenue for the city.
“One of the issues that has been particularly crucial to us is the issue of folks who just choose to ignore traffic signals in the process of doing so have created severe injuries and fatalities to our citizens,” he said.
Segarra listed some Hartford Hospital employees who have been killed by drivers breaking traffic laws over the past few years. In 2010, Robert Suljoti was struck and killed nearby by someone who chose to ignore traffic laws, he said. Another worker, Sandra Hoyle, was killed the same year in a hit-and-run accident by a driver who ran a red light, he said.
Hartford Hospital CEO Jeff Flaks said those deaths could have been prevented.
“Tragedies show up on our door step, that are truly preventable, because of reckless behavior,” he said.
Fonfara, a Democrat from Hartford, said the city does not have enough resources to put a police officer at every corner to address traffic violations.
“Technology can supplement the fine people in blue that are behind you that do a great job every day,” he said.
Earlier this month, as New Haven officials were preparing to push for the bill, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would support the legislation. The governor said it would be difficult for him to oppose it, given he wrote letters and written testimony in support of it as mayor of Stamford.
“I do not believe we should be fighting bad behavior with one arm tied behind our backs, so availing ourselves of technologies that will help us ultimately correct those behaviors is highly appropriate,” Malloy said.
Last year’s red light bill died in the Judiciary Committee due to heavy opposition driven by concerns the cameras would be used for other types of enforcement. Segarra said the cameras shouldn’t be a privacy issue.
“This is not about us imparting ourselves to intrude on people’s lives. It is a way of us to take control and enforcement mechanisms that will discourage folks and apprehend those that are violate our laws,” he said.
However, a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said privacy concerns raised by the cameras have not been addressed. The expanded use of surveillance opens the door for the misuse of data collected, Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said.
“This data could be used to track individual cars and violate the owners’ privacy,” he said.
Fonfara dismissed the privacy issue saying, “in reality the technology does not interfere, does not intrude in one’s life. It takes a picture of a plate, that’s the extent of what it takes.”
But that fact in itself raises concerns for the ACLU. Because the picture is only of the license plate, a ticket is automatically mailed to whoever is registered as the owner of the vehicle.
“The presumption that the owner of the car and the driver are one and the same is often wrong, yet the owner is always ticketed,” Schneider said.
Fonfara pointed to the other 23 states that have legalized the cameras saying, “they figured those issues out, we’ll do the same.”
“We shouldn’t allow the perfect, as you know, to be the enemy of the good,” he said.
The ACLU questioned whether the law would actually be good, saying that claims that the traffic cameras actually make intersections safer are unconvincing.
“Research funded by the private companies and governments that profit from traffic-light camera revenues have cited reductions in certain kinds of collisions, but many independent studies and reviews have reached opposite conclusions,” the statement said.
Some communities that had installed the cameras and later chose to turn them off have faced breach of contract suits from the contractors hired to run the cameras, it said. All told 15 states have banned the cameras, according to the ACLU. The city of Los Angeles got rid of the camera system it used for 11 years when its courts could no longer enforce the fines, the statement said.
Asked about the communities that have banned the cameras Segarra responded, “Maybe all the people who run red lights come to Connecticut? I don’t know.”
Fonfara said many of the questions and concerns about the cameras will be addressed through public hearings and debates as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.