I returned from vacation to find my neighborhood had been bedecked with stop signs and orange flags (I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the Olmsted Society of old that would never have allowed this landscape littering to have happened). 

As I was reconciling myself to the new reality that our curvilinear streets over-challenge drivers raised on grids, the Landmark headline “Riverside edging toward red-light cameras: Majority of trustees favor program, which could include multiple locations” (News, Aug. 8) slapped me out of my reverie.

Was our village board poised to succumb to the siren call of easy money? The “moral” bankruptcy of red-light cameras is profound. By design, the cam’s impersonality allows elected officials, our neighbors, to fool themselves that they aren’t really just sanitized pickpockets wandering through the Fourth of July parade crowd preying boldly on suspected out-of-towners.

Consider the elegant detachment of the setup: a camera snaps some pics, somebody sitting in a cubicle reviews the pics and decides if there’s a violation, the vendor reports purported infractions to the village, the village issues a citation (not to any actual driver, but to a vehicle). 

The village’s hands are clean because someone else has made the call (the cubicle guy), not a person with real accountability to the voters. Antiseptic enough – who could complain? 

Could the fact that the cubicle guy has an hourly quota to meet influence the care given to each review? Could the fact that the vendor gets $40 for each “hit” influence the process (no $ for non-hits, only lost time – and time is literally $)? 

Could the fact that it is probably cheaper to pay the fine than to challenge it make it easier to OK borderline “hits”? After all, that alleged illegal movement through the light isn’t a moving violation (don’t let the pretzel logic twist you up). 

If the owner of the vehicle challenged the citation, it’d be a tacit admission to being the driver – better to remain anonymous.

At least not much lip service is being given to increased safety being the goal. There’s some blather about “changing habits,” but no actual driver with habits to change is being cited. 

What lesson is taught? Don’t lend your car to that ne’er-do-well relative? If you’re a challenged driver, always drive a borrowed car? The cams aren’t designed to ascribe responsibility to any particular driver, so a simple security camera might be just as good or better for accident reconstruction.

Meanwhile, who’s going to keep an eye on all those new stop signs for potential violators? My guess is no one, because that would require actual village employees to interact with actual village residents.

The preferred camera provider is a political powerhouse known for salting the landscape with campaign contributions, including in our neighbors North Riverside and Berwyn (discreetly, I’m sure). 

Prior to incorporating, the company’s founders had no background in law enforcement or public safety. They’re just in it for the money. Is this how we want our laws enforced?

As one trustee is quoted in the Landmark: “This may be the most significant thing we do as a board.”

So true. The board has put a price tag on its soul: $24,000 per month. We better hope they’re not selling themselves and the village short.

Kevin F. Smith

Riverside