Share this article

print logo

Notoriety surrounding firm leads lawmakers to rethink red-light cameras

The company that ran Chicago’s red-light camera program is being driven out following allegations of bribery.

Shut out of the Windy City once notorious for mobsters and corruption, Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems has its sights set on municipalities such as the tiny City of Tonawanda – population 15,000 – where residents and city lawmakers are growing wary.

“You have to wonder, when (Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel would throw out their bid, just how ethical this company is,” resident Robert Derner said.

Redflex last year blamed a former executive vice president for inappropriately bestowing lavish Super Bowl trips, golf outings and other gifts on transportation officials in a $2 million scheme.

The former executive, Aaron Rosenberg, denied any wrongdoing and insisted in a counterclaim “these behaviors were institutionalized.”

Emanuel terminated a lucrative $100 million contract with Redflex and is phasing out its cameras from the city’s program, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A Redflex representative says the company has changed its ways.

David Samuel, regional sales manager for Redflex, told Tonawanda’s Common Council this week that stringent compliance and ethics guidelines were enacted in the wake of the scandal that prohibit salespeople from even buying lunch for government officials.

“We’d have to ‘go Dutch,’ ” he told the Council.

Six top executives were fired in the scandal’s fallout, and all new leadership was put in place, Samuel said.

“We have done everything possible to make sure what happened in Chicago won’t happen anywhere else,” he said.

Still, some Council members remain unconvinced as the city decides whether to become the first local municipality to allow photo enforcement.

“This company is not painted in a pretty picture,” said 4th Ward Alderwoman Jenna N. Koch.

Koch and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Jackie A. Smilinich announced Friday they have called for a special Council meeting Tuesday to consider rescinding an exclusive agreement with Redflex that the former Council approved on Dec. 17.

In January, three new Council members – including Koch and Smilinich – took seats on the five-member Council and began taking a harder look at the proposal.

Smilinich asked Samuel whether Redflex had approached the city about installing cameras or if the city had initiated contact.

Samuel responded that Redflex had approached the city.

Buffalo in 2009, and again in 2011, considered contracting with Redflex but ultimately abandoned the idea. Rochester is the nearest municipality to use the company’s services.

Nationwide, about 30 communities the size of the City of Tonawanda have installed red-light cameras, though that decision largely depends on the volume of traffic, Samuel said.

“It’s not so much the population, it’s the traffic,” he said.

Police Chief William Strassburg has said the intersections of Niagara and Seymour streets, Delaware and Broad streets and Twin City Memorial Highway and Young Street are difficult to patrol and cameras would greatly cut down on rampant red-light running.

Koch said those intersections account for 60 percent of accidents and didn’t dispute the need to take safety measures. But, she said, it is not in the city’s interest to contract with Redflex.

“This company does not have the best moral and ethical standards,” Koch said.

Necessary approval from the State Senate and Assembly to enact a red-light camera program is pending in Albany. Then, the Council would need to enact a local ordinance.

Tonawanda’s plan to install six cameras at the three intersections would be “cost neutral” for the city, Samuel said.

“This program is completely funded by the violators,” he said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Redflex would pocket the first $4,350 that each camera generates from $50 fines paid by drivers – a drop in the bucket compared to the millions Redflex had in Chicago. Each camera would have to catch 87 red light runners for that figure to be met.

While the agreement passed in December with no public comment, two residents spoke out this week against the cameras and Redflex, specifically.

“They owe a duty to their shareholders to maximize profits and minimize costs,” Joshua Dubs, a lawyer from North Tonawanda, said of Redflex. “An entity with these priorities should never be allowed or entrusted to perform such critical governmental functions as enforcing our laws.”

Police would have final say over whether a violation is issued to the registered owner of a vehicle, police and Redflex officials say.

And Derner cited a litany of studies he said proved the cameras’ ineffectiveness and questioned Redflex’s record.

“This is a company that you have to take a good look at,” he said.