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Speed cams: Will they spread beyond Chicago?

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SPRINGFIELD — Cameras in Chicago will soon do what has always been a police officer's job — issue speeding tickets.

By Anthony Brino

SPRINGFIELD — Cameras in Chicago will soon do what has always been a police officer's job — issue speeding tickets.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation that allows Chicago to install speed cameras and ticket speeders in "safety zones" within 660 feet of schools, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. during schooldays, and parks an hour before and after they close.

While the legislation affects only Chicago, some worry the practice will eventually spread to other parts of the state.

"This just means more bureaucracy and more money for Chicago to spend. It's like Big Brother is watching us all over the country," said State Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, one of 50 members of the House to vote against the measure last November.

Cavaletto said he thinks traffic enforcement should remain solely the purview of police officers.

Some legislators who helped write the bill said they would be in favor of allowing local governments — besides Chicago — to decide if they want to use speed-enforcement cameras, which they now can do for red light cameras.

So far, though, local governments haven't expressed interest in seeing a similar law apply statewide, said Jayde Huebner, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Municipal League, which represents local governments throughout the state. The league did not take a stance on it.

"I think if municipalities are going to consider this, they'd probably want to see how it works in Chicago first," Huebner said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been lobbying Quinn for permission to use the cameras for several months, and although the governor's office apparently heard from more than 100 people opposed to the law, Quinn defended it at a Chicago news conference.

"(The legislation) came to my desk and I gave it a thorough review, I listened to all of the arguments pro and con," Quinn said. "I thought safety was the No. 1 consideration."

The safety zones around schools and parks encompass about 66 percent of the city, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis from October.

Legislators who supported the law say it gives the city a new, more modern tool to maintain public safety, especially in areas with growing populations.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor of the law, said, "There are other cities that have been doing this, and I think their experience suggests that if people would just follow the law, we would have a much safer city."

But critics of the law, which takes effect in July, say the idea of speed cameras is motivated more by a desire to raise money than to prevent accidents.

State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, voted against the bill last fall, and said she didn't think there was enough of a public debate about the scope of the enforcement.

"If this is was a good idea, then why wouldn't we do this throughout the state? It seems more like a revenue generator," she said. "I just think people had the feeling that there were going to be cameras on every single street corner."

Illinois already has enforcement cameras in some construction zones, and eight Illinois counties have red-light camera enforcement.

"There is a need to ensure the safety of children and families," said state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, whose district includes a growing swath of southwest Chicago.

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