If you have recently received a red-light ticket, or three, from your friends in River Forest, you are not alone. Through late September, the village has issued more than 14,300 red-light tickets this year.

At $100 a pop, that’s more than $1.4 million in red-light citations. At its current pace, the village will issue almost $2 million in red-light tickets by the end of 2016.

That’s from just two cameras (Harlem and North & Harlem and Lake).

We all know River Forest is a place for high-achievers but the village’s red-light cameras are truly extraordinary. They are potentially 10 times more profitable than your garden variety suburban red-light camera, based on figures from a 2015 analysis by the Daily Herald newspaper. The average red-light camera in the average Chicago suburb — they looked at records for 123 such devices in 32 communities — generates less than $100,000.

Village Administrator Eric Palm has said publicly that River Forest splits the red light ticket revenue 60/40 with its vendor, SafeSpeed LLC. That means River Forest, through late September, has issued red-light tickets this year potentially worth more than $860,000 to the village. This figure appears to be considerably higher than Palm has let on during earlier public comments about the red-light program.

In July, Palm told a Pioneer Press reporter that River Forest officials budgeted for just over $620,000 of red-light ticket revenue in their FY 2017 budget. Given the village’s torrid ticket-issuing pace — they’re sending out about 400 red light tickets per week, on average — that seems like extraordinarily conservative budget forecasting. Or perhaps it seems like a falsehood.

What gives, Mr. Palm?

The math is pretty straightforward: If current numbers hold steady through all of FY 2017, River Forest will issue almost $2 million in red-light citations. The village’s cut of that money would be about $1.15 million, or almost twice what Palm told Pioneer Press.

For those scoring at home, those projections work out to almost $1 million in tickets issued per camera. That’s about 10,000 tickets per camera, an average of more than 25 red-light citations per day at both the Lake Street and North Avenue locations. If you were thinking about popping over to Whole Foods for some fair trade tapenade, maybe head to Pete’s and save yourself $100.

Have you received a red-light ticket in River Forest and are now thinking about contesting it? Don’t bother.

Village records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show you’ve got about a one-in-10 chance of having the ticket overturned by adjudicator Perry Gulbrandsen. He will lecture you and he will crack wise, but Gulbrandsen is a hanging judge and you are bound to swing.

The village has paid Gulbrandsen $5,100 this year but he’s clearly worth it. His guilty findings alone have yielded $95,400 in revenue for River Forest, and there’s still a quarter of the year to go.

Village Administrator Palm has repeatedly claimed the village issues citations in only about half of the cases sent for review by SafeSpeed. If true, River Forest this year has dedicated manpower and other resources inside the police department to review almost 29,000 video clips of potential moving violations. It’s possible this kind of work is why some of the village’s cops signed up to be police, but I wonder if River Forest taxpayers wouldn’t rather see their officers out from behind a computer screen.

Whatever their budget forecasts for the money, River Forest’s red-light camera program is clearly a cash cow. The village right now is on pace to reap more than $1.1 million in red-light fines this year. They should do at least that well next year.

One big, obvious question: How do they plan to spend all that money? 

Ticket happy?

River Forest red-light camera enforcement 

January to September 2016

Number of citations issued: 14,378

Number of citations contested: 1,237

Adjudication findings *

Found guilty: 954

Dismissed: 134

Pleaded guilty: 106 


* Close readers will note the total number of tickets included under Adjudication findings does not equal the total number of citations issued. It's off by 43 tickets. River Forest officials did not provide underlying records in response to my FOIA request and instead forwarded numbers from their red-light camera vendor, SafeSpeed LLC. A SafeSpeed representative indicated in the company's response that some motorists initially contest tickets but then pay before attending a hearing date. It's unclear whether 43 motorists have done that so far this year. River Forest officials responded to a request for clarification but did not provide detailed information. Also worth noting, I sought records from Jan. 1, 2016 through the date of my FOIA request on Sept. 22, 2016. The village response did not include a pull-date for the records. I received their reply, with SafeSpeed's numbers, on Sept. 29.

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