River Forest officials appear committed to keeping the three red-light cameras in the village, but they apparently will not be operated by SafeSpeed LLC.

At the Feb. 24 village board meeting, Village Administrator Eric Palm informed officials that staff intend to decline to renew River Forest’s contract with SafeSpeed, allowing the contract to expire July 1. 

Separately, staff intend to issue a request for proposals for services to consider other vendors. The village originally contracted with SafeSpeed in 2011.

In addition to River Forest, SafeSpeed LLC operates red-light cameras in more than two dozen municipalities in northern Illinois, generating millions of dollars in fines, predominantly from people failing to make a complete stop before turning right.

One of River Forest’s red-light cameras is at Harlem and North avenues and the other two are at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue. 

Fines for red-light camera violations are set at $100 per ticket by the state. Under the current contract with SafeSpeed, River Forest receives $60 from each ticket.  

SafeSpeed is reportedly at the center of a federal investigation that led former state Sen. Martin Sandoval to plead guilty to accepting $70,000 bribes in exchange for protecting the interests of the red-light camera industry in the Illinois General Assembly.

Sandoval remains free on bond and is cooperating with federal investigators in what appears to be a wide-ranging corruption probe involving local politicians and large contributors, including SafeSpeed, and lobbyists.

In response to a question from Trustee Erika Bachner on Feb. 24, Palm said there are three other red-light camera vendors with contracts with other municipalities. She expressed a desire to avoid firms that “trick” drivers into making illegal turns. 

Palm said the village’s contract with SafeSpeed gives River Forest officials control of whether tickets are issued. 

Trustee Bob O’Connell asked if SafeSpeed would be eligible to bid, but Palm said he believed the firm’s “current difficulties” made that seem unlikely.

In response to a question from Trustee Patty Henek, Palm said multiple bills are pending in the Illinois General Assembly that would outlaw red-light cameras, but noted at least one would affect only non-home rule municipalities, including River Forest.

Two bills are pending in the Illinois House and one in the Illinois Senate that were introduced last fall and are still awaiting committee assignments. All three reportedly have bipartisan support.

At least one town that has partnered with SafeSpeed in recent years, Oak Lawn, has pulled the plug on the devices. Cameras in that southwest suburb went dead on Jan. 1, after the village board voted not to renew its contract with SafeSpeed, and Tinley Park’s village board signaled in December that it may follow suit.

Should River Forest choose to end its red-light camera program, it would eliminate a revenue stream that’s used to fund capital projects.

Over the past five years, River Forest has collected more than $4 million in red-light camera fines, according to village budget documents.

New state Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), meanwhile, is calling for a “full review of the red-light program in Illinois” after the latest revelations involving Sandoval.

“What I read in the [Sandoval] plea agreement is disgusting,” Harmon said in an email message to Wednesday Journal. “These cameras were meant to protect the public from irresponsible drivers. Running a red light is incredibly reckless and dangerous. That public safety goal, unfortunately, appears to have been lost.

“There is legislation already pending in the Senate for a review of red-light cameras, and I plan to talk to my colleagues to see how to best address this troubling issue.”

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