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Suffolk GOP Looks To Halt Red Light Camera Program, Calls For Investigation

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A call was issued Tuesday night to suspend the controversial red-light cameras in Suffolk County.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, a now-familiar critic of the red-light cameras gave lawmakers an earful at a hearing in Riverhead.

"The red-light camera program is a scam," said Stephen Ruth. "It's dangerous."

Ruth was dubbed "red light robin hood" after he very publicly tampered with red light cameras in the county, rendering them useless. It yielded him misdemeanor charges, but he hasn't given up the fight.

"It's nothing more than a systematic form of extortion at our expense," Ruth said.

And some Suffolk County legislators said they hear camera critics loud and clear.

"The public is outraged, and they deserve to be," said Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

As WCBS 880's Sophia Hall reported, many Republican lawmakers in Suffolk County said the red light cameras are a money grab, trapping motorists into getting ticket after ticket.

Trotta said the tactics involve yellow lights that are shorter than yellow lights that don't have cameras and having to stop for three seconds on red before making a right turn.

"Ninety-five percent of these tickets were right on reds. I've watched 68-year-old women, 84-year-old women getting a ticket for a right on red where clearly no one is coming," Trotta said.

The lawmakers called for a suspension of the program.

"These cameras are actually causing more accidents," said Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip), "because folks don't know what to do at these intersections."

"It's nothing more than a money grab," added Trotta. "It's nothing more."

Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) also told 1010 WINS the inconsistent timing of yellow lights raises safety concerns.

"I see the uncertainty when people when they're approaching the intersection and maybe hitting their breaks going through or not hitting the breaks until the very last moment, and when the person behind them thinks that they are going through the light because they're not sure how long the yellow light lasts for," he said.

Suffolk County officials staunchly defended the cameras -- denying they are positioned to rake in revenue or that they deliberately shortens yellow lights. Timing is based on the speed limit and location on accident data, officials said.

"The real end goal of this program is that… nobody goes through red lights, and the revenue stream goes down to zero," said Suffolk County Public Works Commissioner Ghilbert Anderson.

But legislators pointed out that the contract for the red light cameras that guarantees the camera vendor revenue.

"The contract specifically puts incentives for tickets to be issued in each one of those cameras – in fact, the county is required to pay a penalty if they don't meet a specific quota," McCaffrey said.

Anderson countered: "We give them a percentage so they can get money back on their investment, and that's solely it. There is no quota."

Opponents called for a suspension of the cameras until the county hands over accident data that shows if red-light cameras have improved public safety. It is data that AAA said it has been trying to get its hands on for a year on behalf of drivers.

Meantime, Ruth is fighting his camera tampering charges in court later this month. He will argue he was doing a public service.

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