Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli says there are “negatives and positives” to red light camera enforcement programs, and that he’ll go along with what the Fort Lee Mayor and Council decides when it comes to the question of whether to institute such a program in the borough.
Ripoli made those remarks at the Fort Lee VFW, where he was the special guest speaker at the United Republican Club of Fort Lee (URCFL)’s meeting, which the organization touted as “An Evening with Police Chief Thomas Ripoli.”
URCFL president David Cohen introduced Ripoli as “a very fair man” after recounting the highlights of Ripoli’s impressive, 41-year career with the .
And on an evening largely characterized by polite, even cordial exchanges, Ripoli said he was “honored” to be there.
“Republican, Democratic, we’re all Americans; that’s what it’s all about,” said Ripoli, who was on hand to discus police and public safety issues in Fort Lee and participate in a Q&A session with club members.
The police chief hit on department statistics like the number of calls it handled over a period of time, summonses issued, accident reports and arrests and said that with 88 men and women currently making up the local police force, “we’re down a little on manpower.”
Ripoli also discussed topics ranging from the Fort Lee Police Department’s relationship with Port Authority police, to the problem of speeding in the borough, to the recent fallout over his misconstrued comments about and the police department’s increased efforts to curtail accidents involving pedestrians by cracking down on both and .
But it was Ripoli’s comments about red light camera programs that were particularly timely, given that earlier in the day the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) announced that it had directed 21 of the 25 municipalities participating in a five-year red light camera pilot program “to suspend issuing summonses to motorists on the basis of video evidence provided by cameras placed at intersections.”
The NJDOT also ordered the 21 towns, including neighboring Palisades Park and Englewood Cliffs, to “re-certify” the timing of yellow lights, state officials said.
“Obviously there are negatives and positives in everything,” Ripoli said Tuesday. “The negative is there’s no discretion by a police officer. That’s the bad part.”
He added, “The red light cameras also cause rear-end accidents” and noted that “you also have to have an officer or a person [doing the job] of sending summonses out so it takes a person away,” although he said he wasn’t sure if that job had to be done by a police officer or whether it could be a civilian.
When told by one member that Fort Lee’s governing body “has repeatedly said it would be an officer,” and that the police officer would have “some sort of discretion,” Ripoli simply said, “I haven’t discussed it with them.”
On the positive side, Ripoli said, “It seems like the towns are collecting a lot of revenue.”
“And it is a form of enforcement that gets people to slow down,” he said. “In anything that you do, there’s going to be a negative and a positive there so I just go by what my governing body [decides].”
Ripoli also discussed development at the 16-acre area of long-vacant land now known as Redevelopment Area 5 and the potential impact it could have on the already understaffed local police department and on traffic in the borough.
He said the police department conducted a survey several years ago when former Fort Lee Mayor Jack Alter was in office, and that it was determined that “there should be a substation in there, just for that area.”
“I’m trying to [imagine] how big this is going to be, but I believe they would have to put more police officers down there,” Ripoli said.
Noting that he’s not a “traffic expert,” the police chief also said, “Obviously there’s going to be more traffic.”
“Sometimes it’s about the synchronizing of the lights,” Ripoli said. “It is tight already, but they seem to have it planned out where they’re going to have the traffic flowing.”