Chicago mayor’s SUVs rack up 11 red light and speed camera tickets in 5 months

Chicago police officers, including members of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s protective detail, stand near his SUVs outside City Hall on October 10, 2023. | CWBChicago

CHICAGO — Brandon Johnson has only been Chicago’s mayor for five months, but he is already outperforming his predecessors by one metric: His SUVs are racking up red light and speed camera violations faster than any of them.

Since Johnson received the keys to City Hall, the black SUVs that Chicago cops drive him around town in have racked up an impressive 11 moving violations, according to records reviewed by CWBChicago. That’s about one ticket every two weeks. One of the SUVs picked up a parking ticket earlier this month, too.

Over the years, we’ve told you about motorcade tickets racked up by Rahm Emanuel, Lori Lightfoot, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. But none of them accrued violations as prodigiously as Johnson.

The mayor’s drivers went next level on September 1 by getting a red light ticket on one of his cars and, 65 minutes later, getting a speeding ticket on another.

As of Wednesday, Johnson’s SUVs owe the city $855. When we first contacted the city about this story, even more was owed, but someone started making payments.

Neither the mayor’s press office nor Johnson’s press secretary, Ronnie Reese, responded to emails seeking input for this story.

What he has said

During the mayoral campaign, Johnson called red light and speed cameras “an easy revenue grab by the city, and they’re horribly unfair.”

Before the general election, Johnson largely stopped short of saying he would get rid of the cameras, but he went there during the run-off campaign.

“I’m for phasing them out if the Constitution allows us to,” Johnson said a week before he would be elected. “And if we can’t, wherever a speed ticket has been accumulated, or acquired, that ZIP code should get the revenue.”

He was most vocal about the city’s decision under Lightfoot to lower the threshold for speeding citations from 10 mph above the posted limit to 6 mph.

That may be a topic for Johnson to revisit. Five of the seven speeding tickets his cars collected were for speeds of 6 to 10 mph above the limit.

What’s the hurry?

We wanted to know where Johnson’s cars were going when they received tickets, so we filed a Freedom of Information request for his daily schedules and scoured the city’s news outlets for contemporaneous coverage.

But for two conference calls, which were over by 9 a.m., the mayor’s public schedule was blank for Friday, May 26. Yet one of his cars was going 37 mph at 4040 West Chicago Avenue just before 11 a.m. The city sent a warning for that one.

On July 24, Johnson returned to Chicago from Cedar Rapids and had a couple of meetings, with the last item on his agenda scheduled to end at 4:15 p.m.

At 7:42 p.m., one of his SUVs picked up a ticket for traveling 11 mph over the limit at 536 East Morgan in Washington Park. His car’s blue lights were activated, and, instead of being trailed by another black SUV, a marked Chicago police unit followed.

Most likely, Johnson was on his way to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where a Chicago police officer was taken minutes earlier after being shot on duty.

The lead car in Johnson’s three-vehicle caravan picked up another ticket on September 9 in the 1200 block of East 83rd. Hundreds of people were waiting for him at 82nd Street and Blackstone Avenue, where a street would be named in honor of fallen Chicago Police Officer Areanah Preston. He was about a half-mile away and two minutes late when the speed camera clocked him doing 39 mph in a 30 mph zone.

That ticket is one of two that have been paid.

Not so easy to explain is the spectacular September 1 performance by Johnson’s police drivers, who earned a red light ticket in one of his cars at 4:08 p.m. and a speeding ticket in another at 5:13 p.m.

Johnson’s official schedule had him heading home from Soldier Field at 2:45 p.m. and leaving the house at 5:10 p.m. to go to the African Festival of the Arts at the Washington Park Fieldhouse.

The city’s camera footage of the violations shows only one SUV at each ticket location. When Rahm Emanuel was mayor, his office suggested that if one of his SUVs got a ticket while traveling without a tail car, that meant he wasn’t in the vehicle.

As of Wednesday evening, the city has issued “final determination notices” for two tickets issued to Johnson’s cars: a June 26 speeding citation from the 200 block of East 63rd and a July 1 red light ticket from the 200 block of West Garfield. Because the fines weren’t timely paid, those citations now require payments of $200. Each.

Johnson’s SUVs were supposed to pick him up from his house about 20 minutes after the June 26 ticket was issued, according to his schedule. The second ticket was issued about an hour before his detail was supposed to pick him up from his house for the first event of the day.

Here are the details of citations issued to vehicles assigned to the mayor’s protective unit since he took office:

DateLocationTypeSpeedFine
5/26/20234040 W CHICAGO AVESpeed Warning37NA
6/26/2023215 E 63RD STSpeed 11+37$200
7/1/2023200 W GARFIELD BLVDRed LightNA$200
7/22/20235529 S WESTERN AVESpeed 6-1037$35
7/24/2023536 E MORGAN DRSpeed 11+41$100
7/30/2023*4053 W NORTH AVESpeed 6-1037PAID
8/24/2023**5529 S WESTERN AVESpeed 6-1036$35
8/26/20234400 W NORTH AVERed LightNA$100
9/1/20231600 N PULASKI RDRed LightNA$100
9/1/2023215 E 63RD STSpeed 6-1031$35
9/9/20231274 E 83RD STSpeed 6-1039PAID
10/3/20231834 S BLUE ISLAND AVE (appx)Expired meterNA$50
* There were two SUVs traveling together on July 30, but we found only one ticket
** The SUV’s blue lights were activated on August 24. The mayor was scheduled to be in a meeting at City Hall at the time.

Unanswered questions

Here are the unanswered questions we posed to Johnson’s press office and press secretary:

  • Who is responsible for paying tickets issued to the mayor’s motorcade vehicles? Do you know if these tickets will be paid? When?
  • The mayor’s detail is receiving automated tickets at a much faster pace than the previous two mayors and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Why is this happening?
  • Where was the mayor’s detail going when these tickets were issued? Why did the detail need to exceed the speed limit or run red lights?
  • Are these infractions acceptable to the mayor? If not, what changes will be made to rein in his detail’s moving violations?
  • Does the mayor favor the continued use of red light and speed camera enforcement? Is he considering any changes to the city’s automated ticketing program? Camera locations?
About Tim Hecke 217 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com