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They see red on road cameras

Making intersections safer in New Jersey? Some people just don't believe it.

Rick Scott, a Cherry Hill father of four who's on a crusade against red light cameras, keeps track of the camera at the corner of Springdale and Route 70 in Cherry Hill. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) October 2, 2014
Rick Scott, a Cherry Hill father of four who's on a crusade against red light cameras, keeps track of the camera at the corner of Springdale and Route 70 in Cherry Hill. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) October 2, 2014Read more

Rick Short is convinced that red-light cameras are little more than "right-turn-on-red cash cows" for New Jersey municipalities.

The self-employed father of four is so sure the devices don't make intersections safer - as proponents insist - he's challenged Cherry Hill officials to "prove me wrong."

And if they can do that, the township resident promises to "stand in the rain or snow for five hours at Route 70 and Springdale Road with a sign" acknowledging the mistake.

I interview Short, 47, at a Cherry Hill Starbucks, where he arrives with charts, spreadsheets, and talking points. The phrase stoprobocops is part of his e-mail address.

Short is an affable fellow with a rapid-fire manner. He's a contractor, and likens himself to David, with the red-light camera industry as Goliath.

But unlike his biblical role model, Short is not doing battle alone; he's collaborating with a retired electromechanical engineer named George Ford.

Ford, 66, of Lawrence Township, shares Short's skepticism about the cameras, which capture images of vehicles running through or failing to stop completely while turning right at red lights. Violators get a summons in the mail.

"George has been the greatest help I've ever had," Short says. "I'm like the strategist, and he's the data finder."

A five-year pilot red-light camera program in 25 New Jersey municipalities has been plagued with problems and will conclude Dec. 16.

Without an extension, red-light cameras will no longer be allowed in the state. And despite the pleas of towns such as Linden, in Union County, an extension seems doubtful; Gov. Christie is unenthusiastic, and Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlan (R., Monmouth) wants the cameras off for good.

During the pilot period, private companies (Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix is Cherry Hill's vendor) have set up the cameras under contract with the municipalities. The Springdale-and-70 camera went up in 2009. Between 2010 and 2012, my colleague Paul Nussbaum reported, Cherry Hill collected $1.2 million in fines and retained nearly $935,000 as revenue.

Ford says he became aware of Short's crusade by listening to talk radio NJ 101.5's morning host Jim Gearhart, who often refers to red-light cameras as "scameras."

"I'd been looking at this a long time and hadn't really connected with somebody else doing the same thing," Ford says, adding that he and Short were "on the same track as far as our research."

Their data - obtained primarily online at the N.J. Department of Transportation's website ( and through Open Public Records Act requests of Cherry Hill and other municipalities - generally call into question the accuracy of the red-light crash reports.

Regardless of whether human error, imprecise reporting guidelines, or other factors are to blame, "we could not determine that there is any improvement in the safety of the intersection" at Route 70 and Springdale, Ford notes.

Both men say they've never been nabbed by a red-light camera in New Jersey.

I, however, had to write an $85 check to Gloucester Township a few years ago after committing what to me seemed an imperceptible infraction while turning right on red from Blackwood-Clementon Road.

That commercial strip was ablaze that night with the paparazzi-like flashes of light from the cameras, then newly installed. What a racket, I thought, as I mailed in the payment for my fine.

I must admit, however, that the presence of the cameras has since inspired me to avoid rolling right turns on red on Blackwood-Clementon. So perhaps the platitudes Cherry Hill offered in response to my questions - red-light cameras are "a valuable tool that helps to keep Cherry Hill's roads safe," and so on - have some relationship to actual human behavior.

There might be a deterrent effect, in other words.

But Ford says the cameras are like George Orwell's Big Brother - intrusive, invasive, and, if not unplugged, a signal of things to come.

And should New Jersey ignore the concerns of Short, Ford, Gearhart, Scanlan, and other opponents, and make red-light cameras permanent, I suggest a different sort of pilot program.

Instead of keeping most of the revenue from the fines, why not have these safety-conscious towns agree to donate said proceeds to New Jersey's cash-strapped Transportation Trust Fund?