A snapshot of Meadows' red light cameras, a year later

About a year ago, Rolling Meadows police installed the city's first "red light" camera as a boost to traffic enforcement. Since then the cameras have been in the news as other towns consider adding them.

I checked in with Deputy Police Chief Dave Scanlan to find out how the program is working for Rolling Meadows. But first, a little background.

The cameras record drivers who run a red light or fail to stop before turning right. Police review the videos and determine whether to send a $100 ticket by mail to the car's owner.

The images are collected by Lombard-based RedSpeed Illinois, which reviews thousands of potential violations captured by the cameras to determine whether to send them along to the city. Rolling Meadows police don't want to see all of them; they've given RedSpeed parameters on which videos to pass along. From there, officers review them and decide whether to issue the citation.

Typically, police see only 10 percent of the possible violations, and they take a "liberal approach" in determining who gets tickets, according to Scanlan. For instance, at Algonquin Road and Route 53, about 50,000 violations were captured during one period last year, and of those, 32 resulted in tickets.

"We'll take a stop anywhere," he says. "We don't want to see cars that have tripped the sensor or stopped over the white line. All we want are clear-through violations."

Scanlan showed me on his laptop how police review each case. I watched a few drivers rolling at a good clip through a red light while turning right.

Ticketed drivers can request a hearing, where they can review their video and make a defense. Scanlan told of one particular offender had been at hearings for three or four violations. "We told her, next time you do this, just stick your hand out and wave to us," he says.

Whether you agree or disagree on the concept, red-light cameras are probably here to stay. The cameras have been challenged in court in several states with mixed results, but just last month a federal court upheld the use of cameras as a source of revenue in Chicago. Suburban residents also have complained the program is about raising cash for towns.

Scanlan bristles at that idea, asserting that the cameras are there to change behavior. "It's a tool police use to increase safety for drivers," he says. "If they think someone is watching, they're much more compliant."

Rolling Meadows uses the ticket money to pay the program's costs. A portion pays RedSpeed's service fees, but the city has its own expenses - costs associated with officers reviewing the videos, hearings, paperwork and the city attorney that are difficult to measure, Scanlan says.

"I'm not sure anyone has determined the ancillary costs to staff this. Yes, it's a revenue producing endeavor, but it is not a for-profit endeavor," he says.

"As the program grows, so do the resources we have to throw into the program," he adds.

Cameras are in place at Route 53 and Algonquin Road, Euclid Avenue and Hicks Road, Algonquin and New Wilke Road; two are at Kirchoff and Rohlwing roads. A second camera at Algonquin and Route 53 is going up soon.

Scanlan isn't ready to call the program a success, since it's difficult to measure with only one year of data. More time is needed to determine if crashes have been reduced. One thing Scanlan does point out, however, is there have been no rear-enders at the intersections - something often believed to be a downside to red-light cameras.

Overall, Scanlan is pleased with red-light cameras and aims to have a dozen in place in the next couple of years. He sees another bonus: Since they are recording all the time, they can photograph criminals in getaway cars, the same way a surveillance camera at a bank would be used.

• Contact Colleen Thomas at or (847) 427-4591.

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