Chicago speed cameras catch school bus drivers, police cars, CTA operators – Chicago Tribune
School bus drivers and public employees, including members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s security detail, were caught speeding by the city’s robotic speed cameras nearly 8,000 times in the past two years, a Tribune examination has found.
In most instances the fines were passed along to the employees who were behind the wheel, but that wasn’t the case with two sets of workers: CTA bus and van drivers and police officers in unmarked cars.
Bus drivers used to have to pay their own traffic fines. But their union successfully sued to stop it on double-jeopardy grounds because the drivers also are subject to internal discipline, according to CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.
The agency is now responsible for the fines. The Tribune found 714 speeding cases among CTA bus and minibus drivers.
The paper’s analysis also found that more than 2,000 tickets were issued to unmarked police vehicles, including those driven by detectives or supervisors. Those police employees did not have to pay the fines if they could explain to supervisors that they had a good reason to be speeding.
The Police Department could not say how many officers have been excused after that internal process. “I am not sure we even keep track of it,” said Officer Janel Sedevic, a police spokeswoman.
The cameras also generated citations for employees at a handful of other government agencies for tickets or warnings: 655 went to state vehicles, 435 to Cook County vehicles and 158 to government vehicles from the suburbs.
Meredith Krantz, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, said all speed camera tickets that come through state offices are passed along to the employees who were driving the vehicles.
“It’s the same for red light camera tickets or any infraction,” she said. “Employees are responsible for following the law when they are driving state vehicles.”
The installation of speed cameras throughout Chicago was one of the first major initiatives by Emanuel after he took office, but his plans were scaled back after the program’s older sibling — the red light camera program — became the target of a bribery investigation and other reports of malfeasance.
Earlier this year, the Tribune reported that the speed cameras since October 2013 have generated more than 2 million speeding tickets worth more than $81 million in fines.
The examination found that tens of thousands of tickets were issued to drivers improperly, with the city enforcing speed restrictions in park and school zones when it was against the law to do so. Some of the tickets issued to public vehicles are among those found to be questionable.
The city has installed about 140 speed cameras near parks and schools on the premise of protecting children. But the Tribune’s latest analysis found more than 1,400 cases where school buses were caught speeding, including more than 600 tickets in school zones, records show.
“Paying these tickets is the vendor company’s responsibility as part of their contract with the district,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner. “Bus vendors have various policies regarding if and how they pass the fines along to their drivers.”
So far, Chicago Public Schools has collected more than half of the $51,548 in fines issued to school bus vendors, Bittner said.
She said CPS investigates anytime the district receives a complaint about a bus driver — whether it is a speeding ticket or another safety matter.
“If issues are found and substantiated, CPS holds the vendor accountable through fines, driver bans or contract terminations,” Bittner said. “Vendors have various policies concerning employee discipline and can range from verbal warning up to termination.”
Like emergency vehicles, police vehicles aren’t supposed to receive tickets from speed cameras or red light cameras. But if the speeding vehicle is unmarked, the city often gets a ticket. When that happens the driver must provide a reason that he or she was speeding, Sedevic said.
“There are times when speeding is justified even without emergency equipment being activated,” she said. “For instance if a car is a block or two from a house burglary and we don’t want to scare the suspect away as we get there.
“If the circumstances are such that the speeding incident was not justified, the officer can either pay the ticket or contest it through the normal procedure,” Sedevic said.
The Tribune also found five speeding citations issued in 2014 to unmarked police vehicles in Emanuel’s security detail, which includes two black sport utility vehicles.
After those infractions were first reported by WLS-Ch. 7 last year, Emanuel promised to pay the tickets and force his drivers to slow down. A spokesman for Emanuel said the mayor personally paid the fines.
All five warning citations and tickets were in park zones, and records show none has been recorded by the Emanuel’s detail since Sept. 26, 2014, when the group was clocked going 41 mph in a 30-mph zone near Union Park.
Police employees aren’t the only ones who can use an emergency situation as a valid excuse when caught speeding.
Hearing records show that two women were excused on grounds they were driving their sons to the hospital with gunshot wounds. One man convinced a hearing officer that he broke the speed limit only because he was fleeing gunfire.
Childbirth was listed twice as an excuse. One woman was excused because she got a call that her house was on fire, and a clergywoman had her ticket tossed out because she was on her way to deliver last rites to a dying hospital patient.