Amid legislative push to eliminate them, Palatine seeks new red-light camera contract

Despite attempts by some lawmakers to ban red-light cameras, the village of Palatine - like others across the suburbs - plans to continue using them, although it has solicited proposals from vendors rather than automatically extending its latest contract.

The cameras have worked well for the village, lowering traffic crashes and increasing safety, Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said. They've also brought in millions of dollars in revenues earmarked for the police department, particularly its traffic unit.

The village has no complaints about its vendor since 2008, RedSpeed Illinois, but it's doing due diligence by seeking other proposals, Ottesen said. The latest contract ended in July and is continuing on a month-to-month basis.

"The industry has evolved ..." he said. "I really felt we should look far and wide to see what's out there. Are we getting the best value? Are we getting the best equipment? Those are the things I wanted to look at."

RedSpeed, based in Lombard, and two other vendors, Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc., of Washington, D.C., and NovoaGlobal, Inc., of Orlando, Florida, submitted proposals to Palatine, according to information obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The proposals are being reviewed by the police department and the village council is expected to discuss them by the end of the year, Ottesen said.

Among opponents of red-light cameras is Republican state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills, who's been trying to get them banned across the state and succeeded in getting the House to approve a partial ban for non-home rule communities, which doesn't apply to Palatine.

Close examination of crash data at red-light intersections often doesn't show a need, McSweeney said. "I think it's a corrupt program. I think it's all about revenue," he said.

The data

Palatine has two red-light cameras at the intersection of Rand at Dundee roads, and one each at Rand at Hicks roads, Northwest Highway and Palatine Road, and Illinois Avenue at Plum Grove Road. Data compiled in July by RedSpeed, which didn't reply to a request for comment, shows fewer crashes at all intersections after the cameras were installed, although with great variation.

The largest decrease was at Rand at Dundee roads, which had 28.9 average crashes per year from 2010 to 2018, less than half the 62.3 average crashes from 2006 to 2008. That includes decreases in all crash categories: rear-end, angle, turn and "other."

But the intersection of Plum Grove Road and Illinois Avenue shows very little change, from an average 3.7 crashes per year from 2005 to 2007 to a 3.1 average from 2009 to 2018, with a decrease only in angle crashes and slight increases in the other three categories.

$100 citations

Citations in Palatine are issued in a two-step approach, said Kurt Schroeder, a retired police commander who works part-time as management analyst for the police department. RedSpeed screens all video triggered by sensors and sends to the village the video it deems showing drivers at fault, he said. The video then is reviewed by village staff, mostly Schroeder, who decide whether to issue $100 citations.

"The law says there should be a complete cessation of movement to stop for a red light. The biggest misconception is people think there should be a 'no turn on red' sign," he said.

Still, one can't be punitive, particularly when the weather conditions are bad, Schroeder said. On a recent Friday morning, he had a list of 212 videos to look at, and began by dismissing four of the first 10.

"You have to look at the overall safety," he said. "You give (drivers) the benefit of the doubt."

Vehicle owners can contest citations through an adjudication process. After adjudication, 7,146 citations were issued and 1,265 were dismissed from 2008 through June, data shows.

The money

Palatine received $607,669 in red-light camera revenues in 2019, $706,999 in 2018 and $699,946 in 2017, Ottesen said.

The fluctuations are due to cameras temporarily being taken out of service for construction or other reasons.

Revenues are estimated at about $500,000 for 2020 and $421,000 for 2021, because two cameras are offline during construction along Dundee Road from Rand Road to Kennedy Drive, Ottesen said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation project started in July and is expected to last through October 2021.

The contract also is lucrative for RedSpeed. The company earned about $207,000 through late September this year, $432,343 in 2019 and $453,525 in 2018, as a result of its contract with Palatine, Police Chief David Daigle said.

That includes a $1,499 monthly lease per camera, a percentage of money from citations, and fees for calls to customer service, payment processing and video archiving. The latter is done when police investigate a crash, Ottesen explained.

"No one likes to get a red-light camera citation, but the village does it fairly, he said. "It's a revenue source for the village, but it's done for public safety."

Future uncertain for measures to ban red-light cameras

  Palatine is looking for a new red-light camera contract and received three proposals, including from its current vendor, RedSpeed Illinois based in Lombard. Pictured here last month is northbound Plum Grove Road at Illinois Avenue. Brian Hill/
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