One of the agenda items at the Morris Township committee meeting on April 13 was the introduction of an ordinance that Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush called, "The first step of enacting legislation for red light cameras."
As the name implies, red-light cameras are intended to photograph and issue tickets to the owners of cars that run red lights.
Ordinance #12-11 passed by a vote of 5-2, with Dan Caffrey and Peter Mancuso casting the dissenting votes. The vote occurred early in the meeting, took only a few minutes and seemed to close the topic for the evening.
However, during the portion of the meeting reserved for commentary by the committee, Dan Caffrey said he wished to explain his vote. Caffrey said he voted against red light cameras because he "objected to creating more government infrastructure when the overall benefit is minimal."
Caffrey pointed out that six million cars passed through the intersection of Columbia and Park last year with only 29 traffic incidents and no fatalities. Red-light cameras, he said, respresented, "too much intrusion when there's not much public good coming out of it."
"I believe it will cost Morris Township money," Caffrey said. "And the only way to recoup that money will be issuing tickets left and right. It is Big Brother. It's intrusive. It's creating government intrusion where there doesn't need to be any."
Peter Mancuso said he agreed with Caffrey's remarks and felt that the township would "probably have to hire 1 or 2 sworn officers to review the tickets that come through." Mancuso said he had done quite a bit of reading on red-light cameras in preparing for the vote. Opinion on the lights, he said, was "fifty-fifty, pro and con." When opinion on something is fifty-fifty," Mancuso said, "It shouldn't be changed." Mancuso also stated that the accidents occurring at the intersection were "Fender-benders, nothing of great consequence."
Bruce Sisler then stated that he had not planned to comment on the cameras, but had changed his mind. "I have been in favor of red light cameras since I joined the committee. They have been recommended by the former and the present police chiefs." Sisler noted that, whatever the accident rate, "many people are running lights and breaking the law and officers cannot patrol it because of the way the intersection is set up." He also disputed Mancuso's claim that management of the camera system would require the hiring of more officers.
Ray Snyder, too, said that he had not planned to comment but had changed his mind. " I don't consider it Big Brother any more than police officers using radar. If you don't violate the law, you won't get a ticket," he said. Snyder, who served as a police officer for 32 years, said he was bothered by the implication that Morris Township police officers would be expected to raise revenue by issuing lots of tickets. That, he said, "is wrong, it's illegal and it won't happen." Snyder added that, despite the minor accidents that have so far occurred at the intersection, "If you t-bone someone, you might not kill them but you can cause serious injury."
Snyder reminded the rest of the committee that there is little to fear from the red-light camera program because the township has made only a temporary commitment. "We only have to engage in it for one year," he said.
Mayor Rosenbush closed out the discussion on red-light cameras, stating that, "There was never any discussion about hiring new officers to do this work. Our interest from the get-go was about safety. It wasn't about revenue."
Rosenbush said that, if the program is successful as a deterrent to red light-running, then revenue will go down over time. "Incidents go down, revenue goes down, costs go down."