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Seeing Red: Long Island’s Controversial Red Light Cameras

While making a left turn onto Uniondale Avenue from Jerusalem Avenue, a busy intersection in Uniondale, John Bohannon of Wantagh saw a pedestrian talking on a cell phone.

“[She was] sauntering across in front of me, oblivious to traffic,” he says. “I had to stop even though she was a jaywalker, walking against the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign.”


Bohannon had two choices: “Run her down and go on my merry way or stop and let her cross while the cameras flashed away. The light was red, a very bright sixty-dollar red.”

The inevitable ticket came, with the pedestrian clearly shown on the attached photo, he tells the Press. He chose not to fight it, however. A colleague of his in a similar situation got just $10 off of his fine after launching a lengthy and costly protest.

Charlie Sellitto of Bellmore has another tale.

“I was close enough to an 18-wheeler that the light could not be seen over the truck,” he explains. “I got another one that showed I was entering the turn when the picture was taken.”

Sellitto, too, decided not to fight because it was just easier to pay.

Former Nassau District Judge Samuel Levine did, though. His wife Lee was driving his car. She says the yellow light was too short and did not want to stop for fear of a rear-end collision. Although Levine did not win at his hearing, he still continues to battle what he describes as “serious civil rights, constitutional law and public safety problems” regarding the now 100 locations where 252 red-light cameras watch drivers throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. And more are on their way.

Almost every Long Islander has, or knows someone who has, their own bitter and frustrating story. Are red light cameras a necessary evil that will reduce the number of accidents? Or are they just a money maker for the municipality and the private companies that install them? Can grassroots groups be successfully heard against the money and power of the large corporations who manufacture them?

One thing’s certain. Though many taxpayers here on Long Island may know little, if anything about the issue (other than seeing more and more bright lights flashing at intersections across the Island), the Press has learned that the two companies hired by Nassau and Suffolk counties to administer the red-light camera program—and rake in millions of dollars—have a sketchy, well-documented history of controversy behind them, spending huge amounts of money to fight local residents who oppose the cameras, millions on hiring lobbyists and contributing to the campaigns of politicians who are in favor of the cameras.

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