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City workers fly under red-light radar

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Richard Drew/AP/File

(Read caption) Congested traffic fills New York's Park Avenue, in this June 2007 file photo. City employees in Rochester, N.Y., can be disciplined by their superiors for receiving red-light tickets, but they're not liable for any fines resulting from the tickets.

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Traffic cameras evoke conflicting emotions. On the one hand, none of us want to encourage speeding or red-light running. On the other hand, the idea of getting ticketed by a camera -- often, a camera run by a third-party, for-profit contractor, rather than the police -- seems like cheating.

Municipal employees in Rochester, New York have found an ingenious way around this dilemma: when they get ticketed by the city's red-light cameras, they simply don't pay for their mistakes.

According to the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester employees driving city-owned vehicles have been ticketed 119 times over the past 18 months. Due to city policy, those drivers can be disciplined by their superiors, but they're not liable for any fines resulting from the tickets.

The Democrat and Chronicle is careful to point out that the 119 infractions don't involve cases of emergency vehicles blasting through red lights with their sirens on, which would clear them of any culpability. About one-third of them do involve police vehicles, which police chief James Sheppard says were responding to emergencies, but the remaining tickets were issued to vehicles from libraries, cemeteries, and other city offices.

Even though Rochester's workers aren't liable for traffic-cam fines, some city employees aren't happy about the possibility of being disciplined. Mike Mazzeo, the local police union president, has expressed frustration that police vehicles are ticketed at all -- whether or not they're in emergency mode.

He's also annoyed that folks outside the police department have to review each ticket for accuracy. In fact, it sounds as if Mazzeo thinks the whole project is a waste of time: "We are going to have to spend how much manpower evaluating every situation? And I’m not sure what the point is. A city employee is the same as any citizen … well, a citizen is not working." (Should we let that last bit slide? Probably so.)

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Our take

In fairness to Rochester's employees, the city doles out about 9,000 red-light tickets each month (from cameras at 29 intersections), so the 119 violations racked up by Rochester employees is minuscule compared to those incurred by the general population. 

Then again, citations issued by Rochester's red-light cameras initially cost $50 -- far less than many other cities. We understand the principle of not charging municipal employees for infractions, but if a city were going to charge, $50 would seem a reasonable sum.

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