Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Montgomery County Scamera Contract Includes Massive PR Campaign

Montgomery County's Speed Camera contract with ACS State and Local Solutions includes a 15 page section describing the public relations campaign which ACS helps to coordinate (SEE DOCUMENT). The contract describes PR campaigns ACS has assisted elsewhere and approaches which it advises the county to take in selling the cameras to the public and deflating criticisms and opposition. The contract details how ACS would assist in creating public relations material, manipulate the media, influence state and local lawmakers, and even 'inform' judges on the company's version of the facts on the camera.

"ACS believes that ongoing media relations are essential to sustaining successful photo speed enforcement public information and public education programs. As such, our team recommends that the County's public information program does not stop once the initial events and fanfare are over. Over the length of the program, ACS recommends that the County carry out an extended media relations program that uses the photo speed enforcement program to promote traffic safety.

This program, as currently envisioned by our team, would include:

* Writing and placing one or more articles in the local, daily newspaper of the County's choice.
* Identifying and contacting key local print journalists and editors in order to brief them on the project and solicit their interest and support. ACS experience shows that outreach to traffic reporters and commuter journalists such as Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post increases support and understanding of the program.
* Identifying and contacting key radio and television outlets to encourage coverage
* Identifying and contacting key radio "drive time" traffic reporters to brief them on the project.
* Organizing a media fax network for the purpose of keeping media representatives aware of the status of Montgomery County's Photo Speed Enforcement Program.
* Composing, for distribution to the media, issue papers that address pertinent public policy issues raised by photo speed enforcement, as well as answer-specific anticipated criticisms of photo speed enforcement.
* Organizing additional news conferences on the occasion of significant project milestones.
* Regularly identifying and pitching photo speed enforcement's positive message to electronic and print media that support the program's public safety goals.

"We have been successful in providing the necessary information to high profile newspapers such as the Washington Post where positive stories about the enforcement programs have been published. The result is an enforcement program that is highly supported by the public."

ACS states that they would conduct public surveys to "gauge program effectiveness and support". "ACS will work closely with the Montgomery County Police Department to fine tune and revise the survey questions, ensuring our survey meets the County's expectations and goals.[...] ACS will analyze the results of these surveys and provide them to the police department and the contract administrator in a timely manner." The county has claimed that polls show a high percentage of public support for the program, even though photo enforcement has been rejected by US voters every single time it has been put to a direct popular vote.

The document also states that "ACS will also deliver an educational/training video to be played at District Court proceedings." We note that when Montgomery County published their Office of Legislative Oversite report in 2009, it stated that "MCPD attributes the high conviction rate to the coordination with the District Court in the Safe Speed programs early implementation stage. When the program began, MCPD demonstrated the speed camera technology for the District Court judges". It is unclear whether any of the DEFENDANTS in those cases had the opportunity to see and/or refute any of the evidence presented to judges prior to their case in those videos and/or presentations.

The contract even includes providing items such as "Coloring books for school children" to enlist children into promoting the program.

The contract details some of ACS's past media relations campaigns:
" * Tempe, Arizona. Citywide mailing of ACS SuperCard to all residences develops
immediate recognition that photo enforcement is "coming to town." Community awareness result: Tempe's program has received strong and enduring support from the community and continues to flourish.
* National City, California. ACS developed an elementary school "photo radar awareness" program that received the enthusiastic support of children, their parents, and local educators.[...]"

"ACS partners with clients to implement innovative and creative public outreach strategies. ACS helps the clients to identify key audiences. In Edmonton, ACS helped to enhance student awareness and participation in traffic safety issues. Students painted poles used to mount cameras. The pole painting attracted positive community and press response. Photo enforcement banners were placed on buses and across bridges. The client used its City Link newsletter and ACS assisted with the development of photo enforcement area of the City's Web site.

ACS helped the client to reach out to another key audience-local legislators. ACS participated in the Alberta Union of Municipal Associations, an association comprised of mayors and City councilors. The photo enforcement booth helped to educate government officials on photo enforcement technologies and the program's success.

In the District of Columbia, the client appears on local public policy talk radio programs such as WTOP. ACS assists the client with program statistics that clarify and amplify improvements in traffic safety. ACS collaborated with the client on filmed public service announcement to promote automated speed enforcement. Also, ACS assisted with the development of an education video used to describe the adjudication process."

We note that Montgomery County's FY11 budget lists no specific expenditures for "public relations" related to its speed camera program. However such PR activities could easily be absorbed into taxpayer funded budget items such as the $236million budget of the county police , the $4,946,420 "Office of Public Information" budget, and the $2,188,000 "Montgomery County Government" item in Cable County Montgomery's (aka 'Incumbent TV') $11.5million budget, in addition to the 'public safety' programs paid for out of camera fines.

On the legislative side, ACS does have a documented record of lobbying for camera laws in Maryland even buying steak dinners for state lawmakers. ACS and other camera contractors have spent heavily on lobbying for speed camera legislation. The annual report from the Maryland State Ethics Commission showed that ACS spent $159,167.05 in calendar year 2009 alone. Reports submitted in June 2010 show an addition $103,584 was paid to lobbying firm Alexander & Cleaver, P.A. and Harris Jones & Malone, LLC in the first half of 2010, indicating that this effort to influence legislation did not stop with the passage of statewide speed cameras in 2009.

In the past we uncovered some of the PR and marketing materials distributed by ACS which used citation images to embarrass drivers.