Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, backed by most members of Buffalo's Common Council, is pushing a plan once more to install so-called red-light cameras at high-volume intersections to catch drivers who don't stop. There's a lot of debate over revenue-producing tickets, but this also is a basic safety measure and a deterrent that deserves support.
It will need that, to pass not just here but in Albany -- even though such cameras have been in use since 1994 in New York City and are used elsewhere in the country. Buffalo would be making its third attempt in five years to persuade Albany to approve this. In an ironic twist last year, Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester, a longtime critic of red-light cameras, sponsored a bill supporting the devices -- and then rescinded support of his own bill.
There are holdouts on the Council here, as well. Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a Buffalo police officer on leave, has valid concerns about the logistical and legal issues involved in issuing a ticket, which would be recorded against a driver's license, from evidence gained by a camera that records the registration-linked license number of a car. Assuming the registration owner is the driver sets up a "guilty until proven innocent" situation that is the opposite of American law.
That concern also calls into question the contention of Delaware District Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, a co-sponsor of the bill, that "if you don't break the law, you don't get a ticket."
South District Council Member Michael P. Kearns focuses, skeptically, on city ticket-revenue estimates of $3.5 million per year.
But Rivera's concern can be met by keeping the appeals process as simple as possible, and using photos that also show the driver at the time the red light was run. And revenue data can be estimated based on experience with similar systems in other cities.
The regional director of the New York Civil Liberties Union also notes that the city has already installed numerous surveillance cameras to deter crime and that traffic cameras would provide an even greater Orwellian "big brother" presence. John Curr III also disputes claims that the crime cameras have led to lower crime rates -- and contends some places have enhanced ticket revenues by shortening yellow-light durations, possibly increasing accident rates.
But increased surveillance in high-crime areas is a deterrence factor as well as an evidence-gathering tool, as has been shown here already. And tampering with light durations for non-traffic reasons should be dealt with harshly if it occurs, but cannot simply be assumed.
No system is going to be perfect but the cameras, mounted in public thoroughfares and long in use downstate, offer the city one more tool to improve safety and the quality of life here. Ultimately, the ones with the most to worry about will be chronic offenders.