Light turnout for Providence speed camera protest at City Hall

Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – On the same night that the Providence City Council agreed to conduct a full review of the city’s controversial new speed camera program, a handful of protesters turned up in City Hall to urge officials to scrap the program altogether.

The protest’s organizers said they’re confident opposition to the cameras is far larger than Thursday’s turnout, noting that more than 17,000 drivers have received speeding tickets since the program took effect in January.

“Nothing is going to happen at the city level anyway,” Anthony Sionni, a one-time council candidate and frequent critic of Providence’s elected officials, told Eyewitness News. “We’re going to the State House next.”

The entire council voted Thursday to conduct a full review of the camera program as a response to a Target 12 investigation that showed more than 12,000 tickets were issued in the program’s first 33 days. Last week, Municipal Court Chief Judge Frank Caprio agreed to dismiss dozens of the $95 violations, citing errors with the ticketing process.

The review will be conducted by the Council Finance Committee, according to Council President David Salvatore. Although he has supported keeping the cameras in place, Salvatore said he wants the committee to discuss every facet of the program. He also wants a representative from Conduent State and Local Solutions Inc., the private vendor that oversees both speed cameras and red light cameras in the city, to appear before the committee.

Tickets can be issued for any vehicle caught traveling at least 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, according to the city’s contract with Conduent. The cameras are also portable, and the city is allowed to move two of them to new locations each week.

Hamlet Lopez, who has also run for City Council on two occasions, said he wants the city to end the program. He said he’s concerned that the $95 fine is too steep for low-income people.

“I feel like they’re targeting us,” Lopez said.

At least two mayoral candidates – Democrats Kobi Dennis and Chris Young – also attended Thursday’s council meeting to show their opposition to the cameras.

Dennis said he believes all the cameras should be taken down and the city should start over by having discussions with city residents. He has said he wants to eliminate the cameras as well. Young said he believes the cameras are unconstitutional, pointing to privacy issues when a private company has the ability to snap a picture of a person’s license plate.

Greg Stevens, the owner of Olneyville New York System Restaurant, said the speed cameras are the latest in a long line of decisions that have given Providence a “negative image.” He pointed to the increase in panhandling and addition of parking meters as other issues that have hurt the city’s reputation.

He said speed cameras are definitely a topic of discussion in his restaurant.

“People are telling me they are thinking twice about coming here,” Stevens said.

The protest came on the same day four Democratic state representatives introduced legislation that would require a warning on the first speed camera violation, a $50 fine on the second violation and a $95 fine for all subsequent violations. The proposal would also require municipalities to improve signage warning drivers about the cameras.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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