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Peoria City Council unanimously approves request for red-light cameras

Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria speaks to the Peoria City Council on Aug. 23, 2022.
Chris Francis
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria speaks to the Peoria City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

The Peoria City Council unanimously voted to request that the state government expand the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras to downstate communities like Peoria County, despite the scandals that have hounded the technology in the state.

Right now, only eight Illinois counties — Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will — can make use of traffic light cameras that snap photos of drivers running red lights.

“We couldn’t determine any true basis that had been used to exclude the other counties… other than the fact that those were the eight counties that had approached the legislature at the time and asked for the authority to do so," said Chrissie Kapustka, the City of Peoria’s interim corporation counsel.

This prompted the counsel’s office to draft a resolution asking the Illinois state legislature make Peoria County the ninth, giving Peoria the option of installing traffic light cameras if it chose to. The resolution did not make or suggest a choice on the part of the council to install them, but Peoria Chief of Police Eric Echevarria explained that the department was investigating the effectiveness of traffic light cameras for that contingency.

“Our traffic lieutenant visited with Davenport, Iowa; LeClaire, Cedar Rapids, and Aurora, Illinois.” Echevarria said, listing comparable cities using traffic light cameras within and beyond Illinois. “We’re still in the research stage.”

Council member Chuck Grayeb was the most animated about putting pressure on the state legislature.

“I’ve been a district councilman receiving complaints about speeding cars, cars blowing stop signs in particular," he said. "And we were told, in one meeting after the next with our state lawmakers… ‘Can’t do it. Only Chicagoland can do it.’”

Absent from the city council’s discussion was the controversies surrounding automated traffic enforcement cameras in Illinois.

Traffic light camera operations in the state have been plagued by a prominent potential corruption scandal in Oakbrook Terrace, where the Chicago Tribune found IDOT approved cameras at an intersection that was busy, but not dangerous.

In addition, Oakbrook Terrace's mayor allegedly illegally took a cut of the revenue from traffic citations made with red-light cameras, adding possible conflicts of interest as to where and how the cameras were used.

Since 2019, bipartisan efforts within the Illinois legislature have attempted to remove traffic light cameras in the state, but have so far failed as a statewide measure.

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Corrected: August 25, 2022 at 3:13 PM CDT
A previous version of this story said red-light camera company SafeSpeed was taking a cut of traffic citation revenues. The allegation is in fact that Oakbrook Terrace's mayor was accepting bribes from a former representative of the company.
Chris Francis is a WCBU correspondent. He joined the station in 2022.