With a camera, Bellwood focuses on traffic violations

By Joseph Sjostrom
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 19, 2006

Bellwood, already blanketing itself with police-monitored video surveillance, has moved a technological step forward in electronic detection of lawlessness.

A camera has been installed at one intersection, with others to follow later this year, that will automatically photograph vehicles moving as the traffic light changes from yellow to red, said village officials. Police will check the license numbers of the offending vehicles and send $100 tickets to the owners.

"It's something we don't want to do but we have to in order to increase awareness and to make the streets safer for motorists and everyone else," Bellwood Police Chief Robert Collins said.

The village began installing video observation cameras a year ago with the hopes of soon having all of its 3.5 square miles covered. Now it claims to be the first suburb to take advantage of a recently signed state law that allows municipalities outside Chicago to record traffic violations by video camera and impose fines. The new law allows police to prosecute offenders as local ordinance violations rather than as moving traffic violations, which are adjudicated by county courts, officials said Tuesday.

"Our main focus now is intersections where negligent driving is causing accidents," Collins said. "We have this technology at our disposal, and we have an obligation to put it to use."

Chicago has used video cameras since 2003 to identify and ticket vehicles that run red lights. The city has cameras at 30 intersections, with 20 more to be added this year, and has collected $12.3 million in fines, according to Kevin Smith, spokesman for the office of emergency management and communications.

There also has been a 40 percent reduction in the number of vehicles running red lights at intersections with cameras, Smith said.

Wood Dale and Naperville also have traffic-violation video cameras--one in each suburb--at railroad grade crossings to detect vehicles that cross the tracks after warning signals indicate an approaching train. Those violations are adjudicated through the DuPage County court, and a conviction counts as a moving violation on the motorist's driving record.

In Chicago and many other towns, cameras are mostly used for surveillance. In Bellwood, the village has installed 39 of a planned 100 cameras that allow police to view almost every public space, including streets, alleys and front yards. Those cameras are designed to allow officers in stations or squad cars to watch activity at a particular location. But the cameras do not automatically record license numbers or coordinate picture-taking with violations.

Bellwood's traffic camera is at Harrison Street and 25th Avenue. It has been operating for several weeks in a testing mode and will begin recording violations sometime this week after village crews install a warning sign that tells drivers of its existence. Warning tickets will be issued for the first 30 days, and then the system will begin issuing tickets, officials said.

Officials chose the location because there is a school on the east side of the intersection, Collins said. Cameras will be installed later this year at Mannheim and St. Charles Roads, at Mannheim Road and Madison Street--the scene of a crash that killed four people a year ago--and at 25th Avenue and St. Charles, he said.

"All these systems combined are designed to enhance public safety. Our main focus now is to concentrate on intersections where negligent driving has caused accidents by running red lights," Collins said.The camera systems are being bought from Current Technologies Corp. of Naperville for about $100,000 per intersection, officials said. Monitoring the 25th and Harrison intersection uncovered about 20 to 30 northbound vehicles run the red light each day, according to a company official. Collins said the number of violations would probably drop when the warning sign is installed.

Police believe the installation of video surveillance cameras, which began in March 2005, has helped the crime rate. Narcotics violations have dropped 16 percent, theft 20 percent and auto theft 17 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to police crime figures.



Copyright 2006, Chicago Tribune