Albany’s red-light camera program is now a fact of life for city motorists, but it’s no longer a factor in the city budget…
In the spring of 2014 legislation was introduced in the state Assembly authorizing Albany to engage in a five-year demonstration program deploying automatic red light ticketing cameras at up to 20 intersections. Then-Police Chief Steve Krokoff and Mayor Kathy Sheehan signed on, as did the common council.
Red light cameras immediately became a tug-of-war issue: Supporters claimed the cameras would help prevent crashes and violations. Opponents said the cameras use an inaccurate method of targeting violators and could end up causing more accidents than they prevent. The battle was so intense, action group “No Albany Red-Light Cameras” formed to oppose the measure.
In time, it became painfully obvious the program wasn't going to deliver anticipated revenue. 11th ward Common Council member Judd Krasher says the program is a boondoggle. "Over the first two years, actually, it was projected to make about $4 dollars, this program and ended up, as we all know, making zero."
Mayor Sheehan contends even though it failed to fill a $2 million hole in the city budget, the program has been a success. Here's the mayor in May 2014: "This is not something that we're looking at as a way of filling a budget gap or as another method of increasing the city's revenue. We're looking at it as a public safety tool."
Maintaining the official "all about safety" mantra, Albany Police spokesman Steve Smith says today accidents are significantly down at all 35 intersections with the cams.
Figures released to the public in 2016 indicated the monthly take in tickets hovers around $45,000. The program does not impact the city's 2018 budget. Mayor Sheehan: "There was an analysis that was provided to us, a review and a projection provided to us by the manufacturer as to what we could expect the revenues to be. Clearly, we didn't hit that number. We're not even close to that number. Am I frustrated by that? Absolutely."
Sheehan added the entire system is funded not by the city or its taxpayers but by the camera manufacturer. Krasher argues there is a hidden cost: "The Albany Police department has to review every single potential violation that pops up from a red light camera. That is time and resources spent from the Albany Police department's perspective, looking at these citations. So that is absolutely not only a cost to taxpayers, but it’s also a waste of time."
In October 2015 the Times Union reported that more than a third of suspected traffic violations captured by the cameras were thrown out by police investigators who found the photographic evidence "insufficient for issuing a citation."
The Red Light Camera page of the city of Albany's website doesn’t appear to be updated recently: it bears a picture of former chief Brendan Cox, who retired in January, along with a "letter from the chief" to residents extolling the program's virtues.