Speed Cameras Flash Forward

School zone speed cameras are beginning to turn up in Massapequa, and though the robot law enforcement tools are not yet fully operational, drivers are beginning to get road weary at the prospect of a surveillance state.

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A recently installed speed camera near Schwarting Elementary School.
(Photos by Joe Pellicone)

While officials at the Nassau County Traffic Safety Board said that only five cameras have been activated, drivers are spotting far more on daily drives through the neighborhood. Fred Bausch, a Massapequan living near Unqua Elementary School, saw one go up recently and said that while he is not a speedster, he fears getting caught in a speed trap.

“My drive to work goes right through the heart of that spot, and I’m really nervous about getting slapped with fines every week,” he said, adding that he also saw a camera at Schwarting Elementary School in North Massapequa. “I don’t know if I really trust these new cameras to enforce traffic safety. I think they are just going to be a new way for the town to inflate its wallet.”

The notion that speed zone cameras are merely a revenue generating tool for the town is not new.  A reader poll on www.massapequaobserver.com finds more than 50 percent of residents believe the cameras are solely meant to raise revenue for the county, while only 11 percent believe children’s safety is the top priority. Just over 36 percent said both revenue and safety factored into the installation of the cameras. Bausch said he believes red light cameras have served the same purpose since that program’s implementation. For him, it’s the camera’s indiscriminate nature that worries him most — a missing element of human judgement lost on the robot eye.

“You can never replace the human element,” he said. “Besides, actual human police officers would not be ticketing drivers the way I think these cameras might be.”

Joe Pellicone, also of Massapequa, said elected officials are always trying to figure out ways of raising money without raising taxes.

“They found out that the red light cameras were successful and now this is the next step,” he said. “To get to Sunrise Highway from my house, I have to drive through a speed camera zone and a red light camera. If I go west instead, I still have to deal with a red light camera, I feel like I’m trapped. I wish both counties [Nassau and Suffolk] would make a public statement about the locations of the cameras and the hours of operation.”

Chris Mistron, director of Nassau County Traffic Safety Board, cited a traffic study showing school districts in other states that have installed speed cameras have found an 80 percent drop in violations.

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A speed camera sits perched on Stewart Avenue near a school in Bethpage.

“I want this to be a dinner conversation,” Mistron said. “Positive or negative, they’ll cause some discussion. What we’re trying to do is improve the safety around the school on a school day. We’re not trying to catch people on off hours. We just want to try and slow down the traffic.”

That is of little consolation to Bethpage resident Chandra Klemmer, who, along with her husband, received five tickets July 28 through 30 from a speed camera at Plainedge Middle School in Bethpage. Klemmer said three of her tickets were within minutes of each other.

“My husband and I are fighting all five of the tickets. We are extremely careful,” she said. “I feel these were installed as a sneaky way to bring in revenue. We all have the right to face our accuser and a machine that can be tampered with is not a very accurate accuser. While I feel the safety of all children is important, this is nothing but a racket.”

Another resident near Massapequa, Joe Matthews, said safety is the secondary purpose of these new speed cameras. And worse than creating a revenue source for the town, they are part of a growing surveillance scare reminiscent of a dystopian future.

“It’s the surveillance state creeping in and it’s becoming more and more acceptable,” he said. “Pretty soon you won’t be able to leave the house without being videotaped. This is just another way for them to take your tax money in the name of safety.”