Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maryland Police Hold Private Speed Camera Meeting

Montgomery County police officials met in private with law enforcement agencies from around the state Wednesday to offer tips on how to implement speed camera programs. The meeting was held on June 24 at the Universities at Shady Grove, and included about 125 law enforcement officials as well as State Highways Administration representatives. According to the chief of Montgomery County's speed camera program, capt John Damskey, the symposium was closed to the public "to encourage the free flow of ideas from the event’s participants — without fear of self-censorship because those ideas would be made public."
“I don’t want anybody holding back an idea that has a lot of merits that could improve everybody’s program,” Damskey said, after barring a reporter from entering the symposium.
[Read full article in the Examiner]

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This meeting underscores how confident local and state officials are that they will be able to implement these programs immediately with little political opposition. All counties in Maryland will be authorized to implement speed cameras starting October 1, but only after county governments pass local legislation authorizing their use. Cameras will also appear in "highway work zones" on freeways with 55mph speed limits, which are authorized "regardless of whether workers are present". The State Highway Administration has confirmed their intention to use cameras where there are no workers by stating "We need to be having traffic slowed down even when workers are not present"[ref].

Montgomery county continues to pay its contractor a $16.25 cut out of each $40 ticket, an arrangement which many believe violates state law and which is the subject of a pending lawsuit. It is unclear whether the officials at this secret meeting plan to emulate this arrangement, which has the sole purpose of guaranteeing a revenue stream. Montgomery County officials stated their intention several times since May 2008 to renegotiate the contract to a flat fee, and it has has drawn criticism even from supporters of speed cameras. But the appearance now is that with the passage of statewide speed cameras, they no longer need or intend to do so, and will allow an arrangement to continue where the contractor providing evidence to the court only gets paid if the accused driver is found guilty.

It is also unclear whether the "best practices" other local law enforcement agencies will pick up from Montgomery County's program will include placing cameras immediately after a drop in the speed limit in order to ensure a steady revenue stream from out of town visitors.