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Audit says data can’t prove red-light cameras at most-dangerous spots

Red light cameras.

Red light cameras.

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:17AM

A $2 million bribery scandal is not the only problem plaguing Chicago’s decade-old red-light camera program. So is a lack of record-keeping, accountability and oversight, the city’s inspector general concluded Tuesday.

In an audit prompted by questions posed by Chicago aldermen, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded there is no evidence to substantiate the city’s claim that red-light cameras have either reduced accidents or are installed at the most dangerous intersections.

Under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Chicago Department of Transportation claimed to have chosen intersections with the highest number of “angle crashes” caused by red-light running to pump out $100 tickets that now generate $72 million in annual revenues.

But Ferguson said CDOT was unable to produce evidence that accident data was used in the selection of camera locations or that accident data is regularly reviewed with an eye toward relocating cameras to the most-dangerous spots.

Only 10 cameras at five intersections have been moved in the 10 years since the program was launched. Chicago now has 384 red-light cameras at 190 intersections.

“This high-profile and very controversial program that costs the city tens of millions of dollars and costs residents and visitors tens of millions more is operating in a way that nobody can substantiate whether it’s actually being run for public safety,” Ferguson said Tuesday.

“The city can say whatever it wants. The question is whether its words can be substantiated. This audit indicates that there is not data that allows the city to substantiate its claims.”

Equally troubling, the inspector general said, is the fact that the city is spending $13,800-a-year to maintain cameras that cost $25,000 to purchase.

“On the face of it, it looks like those costs are out of line. Somewhere along the way, there should have been an evaluation on whether that was money well spent. We see no documentation of that,” he said.

Ferguson noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made similar public safety claims about the speed cameras he’s planning to install around schools and parks — and counting on to generate $30 million in revenues this year to bankroll childrens programs.

“The very same concerns and recommendations that apply to the red light camera program apply equally to speed cameras,” Ferguson said.

“If you don’t keep records and you don’t measure your program, the public doesn’t have a basis for trusting your claims about the program.”

CDOT responded to the audit by noting that the number of red-light cameras has been frozen at 384 since Emanuel took office. The city’s existing complement of cameras have reduced angle crashes by more than 30 percent, the department claimed.

Emanuel dumped the Arizona-based company tied to the bribery scandal, Reflex Traffic Systems, after the company’s own investigation showed it paid for numerous trips for a former city official charged with overseeing the program and concealed that information from the city.

But the Redflex contract has been extended twice to make certain the city can sever the relationship for good. The city does not want its new red-light camera contractor to use Redflex at all — either as a subcontractor or supplier.

In his audit, Ferguson recommends that the city establish rigid criteria for locating red-light cameras, follow that criteria and maintain records to make certain its living up to those standards.

Red-light cameras were gradually installed at accident-prone Chicago intersections, beginning in 2003. The cameras pumped out a high of 791,111 tickets in 2009, before dropping in recent years to 763,419 in 2010, 662,046 in 2011 and 612,278 last year.

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