City may see red-light cameras

Although city officials are pushing for red-light cameras, New Haven drivers may not see them just yet.

At a press conference Friday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., New Haven Police Chief James Lewis, state officials and members of the Connecticut Livable Streets Campaign said they hope the state legislature will approve the installation of red-light cameras across the city. But it is unclear whether state legislators will pass the bill this year; similar bills, including one sponsored by state Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-New Britain) and Rep. Frank Nicastro (D-Bristol) last year, have failed repeatedly for three years, despite the support of the city government.

Nicastro said it will difficult to find municipal funding for the red-light cameras. Douglas Hausladen ’04, a member of the Connecticut Livable Streets Campaign, said this year is first time the state has had a strong lobbying force for red-light cameras.

The mayor stressed the potential safety benefits of the red-light cameras at the press conference, which was located on the corners of College and North Frontage streets, two blocks away from the 2008 hit-and-run accident that caused the death of Mila Rainof MED ’08 and a block away from the 2009 hit-and-run death of West Haven native Michael Jaye.

“It will support the tough job our police have,” DeStefano said in a press release Friday. “It will make New Haven streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

The cameras are currently used in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and 400 other municipalities around the nation, according to Arlington, Va.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Los Angeles alone, tens of thousands of citations are issued by traffic cameras annually, and last year the city government raised $6 million in profits from the citations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hausladen said the city needs more red-light cameras because drivers know that it is difficult for the police to enforce the traffic rules at every intersection.

The bill concerning red-light cameras, introduced last week, faces a tough journey in the Connecticut legislature. Last year, a similar bill was endorsed by the legislative Transportation Committee but was nixed by another committee last April before coming to a vote.

In March, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut testified against the bill, citing concerns for a loss of personal privacy and due process rights. They have not changed their position as of December, Connecticut ACLU spokesman Patrick Doyle told the New Haven Independent at the time.

Still, it is unclear whether the bill could come to a vote this year, Hausladen said, adding that the red-light cameras would be installed using city funding and that this year, state officials normally can only vote on bills that would require state funding. But he did note that the legislature can make exceptions.

New Haven police officials, such as Assistant Chief for Operations Kenneth Gillespie, have expressed strong support for the system. A former motorcycle cop from California, Gillespie has said that he was surprised at the New Haven’s poor traffic conditions when he arrived in the city in 2008. The proposed system, Gillespie said last week at the press conference, would be a large step in the right direction.

Nicastro, the state representative who co-sponsored last year’s red-light camera bill, said Monday that state officials need a test city before they can feel comfortable allowing red-light cameras across the state, but he added that state legislators fear that municipalities would not have adequate funding. Nonetheless, he reaffirmed the necessity of the cameras.

“You can make any law about [a traffic violation], but if you don’t have a way to enforce the law, it doesn’t matter,” Nicastro said.

The red-light camera bill is also supported by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in an e-mail over the weekend.

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