Editorial: Yes, let's restrict the use of red-light cameras
We watched with interest last week as the Illinois House passed, by a wide margin, a bill authored by State Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills to outlaw red-light cameras in communities with smaller populations such as Bensenville, Lake Zurich, Libertyville and Roselle.
McSweeney's bill is directed at towns like those because, by statute, they do not have expanded Home Rule powers that are reserved for the most part for larger municipalities.
We have expressed our views on red-light cameras many times.
As a "Seeing Red" investigative series we published more than five years ago revealed, many municipalities were using the devices to generate revenue windfalls rather than to enhance traffic safety.
The public and political uproar has exploded since then, in Chicago and across the nation. But in the suburbs, many towns responded to the series by re-examining what they were doing or thinking about doing. Some abandoned the notion of red-light camera policing altogether. Others refined their approach to eliminate the most onerous practices, such as fining motorists who slipped meekly over the white line before making a right turn on red.
Our view on the issue remains the same. We are not against red-light cameras per se. But we do strongly oppose their abuse.
The mission of law enforcement is to protect life and property. That's the reason police departments exist. It is not the mission of law enforcement to generate revenue. Fines are intended to discourage illegal behavior and only that. If they also help recover some of the expense of policing, we have no disagreement with that. But they ought not be used to turn police departments into profit centers.
Thankfully, elected officials in most corners of the suburbs have come around to that line of thinking. The red-light camera issue is not as significant a problem in the suburbs as it once was.
As for McSweeney's bill, we think the legislation makes sense but would hope there might be an appeal provision -- perhaps through referendum -- to enable a small town to consider limited use of the technology if there is a specific and especially egregious traffic safety problem somewhere in the community.
What will become of the legislation is anybody's guess at the moment.
Some argue that given the revenue constraints municipalities face, the Illinois Senate and Gov. Bruce Rauner should oppose it.
But that argument underscores the whole problem. These devices shouldn't be viewed as revenue producers in the first place.