Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza says her office will no longer help municipalities collect red light camera fines

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza has announced that next month, her office will stop helping municipalities collect fines for red light camera tickets.

"My office is taking decisive action in response to unethical arrangements that have come to light regarding the red-light camera industry," Mendoza said. "As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken. I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers."

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Are there red light camera traps in Chicago? The ABC 7 I-Team found intersections at which some drivers and critics said tickets were unfairly issued.

The new policy will go into effect on February 6. The General Assembly allowed municipalities to use the Comptroller's office to help collect debts through withholding of state income tax refunds or other state payments starting in 2012, Mendoza's office said.

Mendoza had already stopped helping the city of Chicago collect when she was sworn into office in 2016.

"About 60 municipalities taking part in this right now; it is significant," Mendoza said.

Mendoza said fines for red light cameras fall disproportionately on minority and low-income drivers.

In her press release announcing the changes, Mendoza cited a story by the ABC7 I-Team and Chicago Sun Times that found most red light tickets go to drivers cited for turning on red and not drivers who go through an intersection during red lights.

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A joint investigation by the I-Team and Sun Times uncovered the suburbs making the most from red light cameras, mostly from citations for turning right on red.

"Your investigations have been helpful, and this is an issue we have not taken lightly," Mendoza told I-Team Consumer Reporter Jason Knowles. "The majority have been, and you have helped prove that, have been someone not coming to a perfect Secretary of State-worthy stop on red when they are allowed to turn on red."

The I-Team also found that many suburban red light cameras are placed in designated right-hand turn, curved lanes which may confuse drivers into thinking they don't need to stop. Those curves don't have a traffic light on the right-hand side and in what experts call the driver's "cone of vision."

Proponents say drivers should always come to a complete stop, and point to studies which say cameras reduce crashes.

Mendoza said her office's decision is based on reports of a federal investigation into some suburban politicians and alleged connections to the private red light camera company Safe Speed LLC.

"I think it's critical that the state's collection mechanisms should not be hijacked by political insiders to profit from an enforcement system whose integrity is now being seriously questioned," Mendoza said.

"Because some people are making a cut off of the red light that goes up and the ticket that gets issued. That is wrong," she added.

The I-Team reached out to Safe Speed for comment and the company declined. Safe Speed has denied allegations of wrongdoing and officials have never made any accusations against the company.

According to the I-Team's 2017 red light camera investigation, the suburbs brought in $67 million in just one year.

Berwyn, which was number one on the list, said despite Monday's news they are keeping red light cameras to reduce collisions.
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