New Jersey lawmaker squares off with Linden mayor over soon-expired red light camera program



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LINDEN, New Jersey — Ground zero in the debate over New Jersey's red light camera program shifted to a crowded, sweaty city hall office Monday as the program's most ardent critic locked horns with a mayor who wants to keep the cameras rolling.

The face-off between Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon and Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka wasn't exactly the Lincoln-Douglass debates, but it didn't lack for passion or theatrics.

O'Scanlon has been on a crusade to get rid of the cameras because he believes they don't target the red-light runners who cause the most serious accidents and are primarily cash cows for municipalities. At one point during the session, he threw down a challenge.

"Let's look at 100 — or 1,000, I'll stay through midnight if you want me to — videos, and if you can find me one where someone clipping the end of a yellow light causes a major accident, I'll give you $1,000," he told Gerbounka and Linden Councilman Peter Brown Jr.

The five-year pilot program operates in about two dozen New Jersey municipalities and has had difficulties, from a federal lawsuit that resulted in refunds to hundreds of thousands of violators to a computer glitch this year that voided about 17,000 tickets.

In 2012 the state had to temporarily suspend dozens of the cameras over concerns that yellow lights weren't properly timed.

Brown said the cameras' effectiveness can be demonstrated by the fact that Linden hasn't had any auto fatalities in the last year, after having four in 2011 and 2012.

"It does improve driver behavior, and it's carried over to other intersections where there aren't red light cameras," he said. "Instead of running that amber light to beat the red light, people are now stopping."

The pilot program is set to expire next month and would require new legislation to be revived.

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