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Emanuel: Cameras catching speeders ‘part of an entire strategy’ to protect kids

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presents his 2012 budget Wednesday October 12 2011 City Council. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presents his 2012 budget, Wednesday, October 12, 2011, at City Council. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 9, 2011 8:14AM

Insisting it’s about protecting children — not raising revenue — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday made a final push for the authority he needs to use red-light cameras and cameras concealed in vans to catch motorists who speed near schools and parks.

The Illinois Senate has already granted speedy approval of the mayor’s anti-speeding bill. The Illinois House could do the same this week, despite concern that Emanuel’s Big Brother reach would extend to nearly half the city and turn into a cash cow like red-light cameras.

On Monday, the mayor pleaded his case one more time before a wall full of video monitors at the city’s 911 center displaying live feeds from red-light cameras at some of the city’s most dangerous intersections.

Emanuel argued that the speed cameras are just part of a broader strategy to protect children that also includes: an earlier curfew for kids under 12 and a crackdown on curfew violations at all ages; security cameras in fourteen more high schools; more resources for the Safe Passage Program and holding crossing guards harmless from budget cuts.

“If we had no other footprint in the safety around our children, I’d understand that claim,” that the motive was raising revenue, Emanuel said.

“[But], it’s not a one-trick pony — speed cameras and that’s it. ... It’s part of an entire strategy that envelopes a school in a place of safety — and parks — so kids either can play or learn in as secure an environment as we can provide. ... And any revenue goes back into protecting our kids. It doesn’t go to fund the deficit.”

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said the crackdown would probably begin in late summer at 79 red-light camera intersections within one-eighth of a mile of schools and parks. An undisclosed number of other schools would also be protected by cameras concealed in vans, he said.

Tickets carrying $100 fines or graduated fines depending on the speed would be automatically mailed to the license plate holder of any vehicle travelling over five miles above the posted speed limit, Klein said.

The crackdown would follow a 30-day break-in period when warning tickets would be issued.

“One-third of our children walk to school, 32 percent to be precise. So, we have a particular problem here in Chicago that needs to be addressed that may be different than a suburban or rural area,” Klein said.

“In 1968, almost half of our children walked or biked to school. If you want to get back to that, you’ve got to make it safer. ... We’re just asking people to obey the law.”

The bill approved by the Illinois Senate would allow cameras around schools to function between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Cameras on streets near parks could operate an hour before parks open until one hour after they close.

Critics have complained that the proposal is intrusive, would eventually lead to speeding cameras in the suburbs and Downstate and amounts to a money grab by the city.

Emanuel noted that Monday was the funeral for six-year-old Diamond Robinson.

Robinson was killed on Oct. 29 while crossing a South Side street with a 16-year-old family friend who suffered a broken arm on their way to a Halloween party. The driver was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, driving too fast for conditions and driving without insurance.

“That is a reminder of ... the full price and consequences of what we’re talking about today,” the mayor said.

Joining Emanuel at Monday’s news conference were nearly a dozen state lawmakers who support his position.

“They all know the politics around this. Nobody said it was easy to do the right thing. We put speed cameras and other cameras in places to protect construction workers. If it’s right there — and it is — it’s right for our children,” the mayor said.

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