Lights out for red-light cameras in Swampscott
By Debra Glidden
Thursday, May 18, 2006
SWAMPSCOTT - Town Meeting put the brakes on a bylaw to allow cameras to be installed at intersections in town.
At Town Meeting on Tuesday night, an article, which would have allowed cameras at intersections to catch red light violators, was tabled indefinitely.
Police and town officials were advocating the use of the cameras, which proponents claim would effectively deter speeding and running red lights.
Selectman Marc Paster said there was not adequate debate on the issue and Town Meeting members were not well informed, which is why it was defeated.
"A couple of attorneys put the fear of God into people about Big Brother watching their every move," Paster said.
"I would like to see this revisited and debated in a manner where it can be given the appropriate attention-not at 11 p.m. on the last night of Town Meeting."
Attorney Randy Chapman urged Town Meeting not to act in haste.
"I have talked to a lot of people and they have genuine concerns about the government spying on people. There is a tremendous amount of reservation," Chapman said.
He said he believes Town Meeting should consider a trial run with a sunset provision.
"It's the type of thing I think could be tried at just one intersection in town for a period of one year to see how it works," Chapman said.
According to proponents of the camera systems, the technology is less invasive than a traffic stop by a police officer.
"It doesn't ask for your license, run a warrant check or look into your car," Paster said.
Lt. Thomas Stephens, who is familiar with the technology, said the cameras photograph the license plate, not the driver, and record the speed the vehicle was traveling when it ran the light. He said the systems have a proven track record for reducing traffic violations.
According to Stephens, after cameras are installed, the company monitors them and if there is a violation it sends a copy of the video footage and still photographs to the police department.
Local police would review the evidence and decide whether a citation should be issued. Stephens said if an ambulance ran the light or a motorist stopped a couple of feet beyond the stop line the department could opt not to send out a citation.
Stephens said motorists who are ticketed by police for running a red light or speeding would receive points on their license, which could affect insurance rates, but that is not the case with the camera system. He said citations sent using a camera system are treated like a parking ticket and do not show on an operator's license or get sent to registry.
Town Administrator Andrew Maylor said the system could be installed and maintained at no cost to the town. He said the company would take a percentage of the money from the citations and the town would receive the rest.
Paster said the article would appear on a warrant at a future Town Meeting.