Saturday, May 28, 2011

Frederick City Speed Cameras Now Online

The City of Frederick has initiated their speed camera program, according to a story in the Frederick Post.   The first cameras have been deployed near the intersection of Butterfy Lane and McCain Drive. 

The cameras are to be located in "school zones", however the city recently designated new school zones, can designate new school zones at any time, and the areas eligible for such zones speed cameras in fact covers most of the city... a fact confirmed in a videotaped council session.  The council approved 18 or 19 cameras total.  The cameras are mobile,  meaning they can be moved to other locations at any time (so the total number of sites might ultimately exceed the number of cameras).

The city will have a 30 day "warning period" as required by state law, ending in June (shortlly after schools close for summer vacation), at which time the cameras will begin issuing tickets.  Additional cameras may go online in other location and begin issuing tickets immediately (the requirement for warning periods exists only for the first camera placed in any jurisdiction).  Selected locations include two on Hayward Road, on On Opossumtown Pike and two at the 1400 block of North East Street.  The council authorized a contract with ACS State and Local Solutions who provides the cameras and related services in exchange for a portion of the revenue from each ticket.

A photo of the first camera in the Frederick Post appears to be a laser based VITRONIC Poliscan camera, the same type used by the SHA, Chevy Chase Village, and Bowie.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Morningside Hires Brekford Corp To Run Speed Camera Program

Brekford corp announced that it has signed a contract with the town of Morningside to run the town's speed camera program.  The town of approximately 1295 is located in PG county adjacent to Andrews Airforce Base. 

Morningside made news recently when a member of the town council was investigated by state police over allegations she inappropriately deleted tickets issued by the town's existing red light camera program for herself and others and later resigned from office.

Local governments usually deny that generating revenue is the primary motivate for their programs.  However a Brekford investment profile was much more candid about the company's sales pitch:
"The Company has been able to build upon its ten years of established relationships to be the One-Stop solution in the ‘hot’ technological focus of Automated Traffic Enforcement and Automatic Traffic Safety Solutions. As municipalities search for additional revenue streams, Brekford’s Automated Traffic Enforcement and Automatic Traffic Safety Solutions presents an attractive opportunity amongst its multiple products.
Brekford’s new division focused on Automated Traffic Enforcement is attractive to municipalities searching for additional revenue.
"Brekford’s automated photo enforcement program was implemented during December 2010. A fresh stream of revenues has been created from this newly introduced program.
Brekford has been awarded automatic traffic enforcement contracts by several municipalities during the past several months and the implementation of these contracts is anticipated to bring added revenues and profitability to the Company beginning this quarter.
"In return for a percentage of revenue collected, Brekford delivers a full Turn Key System to government entities which delivers a beginning to end traffic enforcement program.
The installation of the cameras which enforce traffic is just step one in Brekford’s revenue stream. With enforcement solutions for BOTH speeding and redlight compliance Brekford delivers the back-end software and personnel that identify the vehicle and its driver through DMV information, they prepare and mail the ticket and collect the fine. Brekford’s fee represents a percentage of the amount collected. At month’s end Brekford submits to the governmental entity their percentage of the amount collected through the Brekford automated process. To support the growth Brekford has experienced in this area a new back office support for automated traffic programs opened a new back office processing and data center.
"Brekford has a solid business which has been able to capitalize on the fastest growing law enforcement technology. Shareholder value is enhanced not only with Brekford’s delivery of the technology but by the ongoing revenue stream generated from running the ‘back office’ support for traffic citations. This is what you look for in a fast growth company. Rarely do you find a solid established Company that has the solid foundation to capitalize on an industry coming into its own. Here is the chance to participate in the Traffic Solution Enforcement Industry."

Almost makes you want to run out and buy stock doesn't it?

The town website had no information about the new program at the time of this posting.  In any case, we believe it's safe to assume Morningside's new speed camera program will be conducted with the same spirit of integrity, openness, and respect for the rights of citizens we've come to expect from other such programs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ticket Challenges Successful More Often, But Some Left Waiting

In 2009, before speed cameras moved statewide Montgomery County claimed to have had a 99.7% conviction rate for speed camera hearings and that only ten defendants had ever been found not guilty.  Since then however, the odds appear to be slightly more favorable for defendants as more cases are being dismissed for various reasons, with defendants in some jurisdictions having more success than others.

A number of defendants who received tickets from College Park stating that they were speeding in a school zone had their citations thrown out on the grounds that the location was not a designated school zone.  The location was in fact an "Institute of Higher Education" zone, a new designation created by a 2010 law which applies exclusively to College Park.  In two separate hearings, every defendant receiving such a citation who plead "Not Guilty" had their citations dismissed, with the judge referring to it as an "improper filing document".  In the same hearings defendants who plead "Guilty With Explanation" were sentenced to pay fines plus court costs (as normally defendants who plead Not Guilty have their cases heard last).  College Park and their contractor, Optotraffic, have apparently changed the tickets since then, so this most likely will only apply to tickets from the first few months of College Park's program.

In Montgomery County, one attorney, James Liskow, successfully appealed a speed camera ticket in circuit court, and won by arguing that the speed camera statute as written required citations to certify that a list of requirements in transportation article 21-809(b) and that this was not done.  Because this was a circuit court, in theory this could have a binding affect on other courts, if a defendant can successfully argue this (However we will caution that  presenting this argument well may be somewhat difficult for someone who is not experienced in law).  It is likely that the county will either make some administrative change, appeal the decision, or seek a change to the law to circumvent this problem before long.

In other locations such as Forest Heights, defendants were able to use time-distance calculations to argue that they were not in fact speeding.  However defendants who receive tickets from Montgomery County, Baltimore, and the State of Maryland may be out of luck when it comes to actually proving errors from photos: tickets from those programs now only display timestamps accurate to within 1 second, the timestamps on the two images either being identical or differing by 1 second, which is nowhere near enough precision to prove even a very large error.  Such timestamps show two 00's after the 'seconds'... fractions of seconds are shown but are always zero.  This implies that the cameras and tickets provided by their contractor, ACS, are capable of recording and/or displaying more precise timestamps, but that a decision was made not to do so.  We have received reports that defendants have successfully argued that such timestamps were invalid in Baltimore City, however in Montgomery County judges ruled against one defendant who attempted to argue against this.

We have also received numerous reports of long waits for court hearings, particularly in Prince George's County.  One defendant fighting a ticket from Riverdale Park, who claims he was traveling far slower than the 60mph speed on his citation and that the images prove this, has been waiting since January for a hearing date.  Some defendants from Forest Heights stated to StopBigBrotherMD that they have been waiting close to a year for hearing dates.  In some cases after they requested hearings defendants have received penalty notices or statements saying their registrations would be suspended if they did not pay by a certain date.  We've not heard from defendants whose registrations were actually suspended in this situation, however there was a reported instance where Baltimore mistakenly suspended the registrations of 8000 drivers awaiting hearings for red light camera tickets, where the waiting list had apparently reached 15 months in some cases.

StopBigBrotherMD gets much of its information from people who are challenging tickets.  If you are fighting a ticket in an upcoming hearing, particularly if it is because you believe the ticket is in error, please contact us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Optotraffic Inadvertently Provides Evidence Validating Speed Verification From Photos

In our last posting we reported that Forest Heights had responded to criticisms that their cameras were inaccurate by claiming to have conducted a thorough "independent verification", and published the results of that report in the form of a press release lifted almost word for word from the website of another town.  In addition to being plagiarized and not addressing any of the specific errors reported in Forest Heights, it contained several technical errors.  Go read that report, and the report on The Skeptical Juror, then come back.

It turns out that Forest Heights did stage a demonstration of its speed cameras on April 30th, which Optotraffic used to produce a public relations video for their product (which you can see here).  In that video, they inadvertently provided sample evidence which validates the technique which some drivers have been using to challenge tickets. 

The video, like Forest Height's press release, did not address the specific details of the errors which had been reported, Optotraffic and Forest Heights officials speaking in the video only claimed that photos were not used to determine speed:"Some of the concern was that the photos measure the speed and that's not the way we measure the speed."..."The photos are only to show that the vehicle was there at the time and date of the violation, to get owner information, and to see that the vehicle was in motion".  This is despite statements in their own technical document stating:“While the primary evidence for issuing a speeding citation is the calibrated Lane Sensor, the two photos provide the secondary evidence of speeding that is presented to the citation recipient.” and “Since a stationary object is present along with the vehicle, a photographic method also determines speed, guaranteeing fairness”.  Those documents didn't say photos were just used for identifying the vehicle, or that the vehicle was moving.  Then, after people actually started using citation photos the way Optotraffic had said they could be used, Optotraffic changed their story.

The video showed this photo the following citation images of a police cruiser going 60mph, which we will take their word for it that it really is going 60mph.

Now, I don't think many of us really doubted that it was possible for Optotraffic's cameras to record a correct speed in most cases when technicians are standing by nursing the machines and watching for any conditions that might produce an error.  But let's compare these photos, which we can create a composite of :

Test Photo, composite image
To some of the photos which have been questioned which were allegedly traveling close to the same speed.

Challenged Citation #1, composite

Challenged Citation #1, image 1

Challenged Citation #2, image 2

Challenged Citation #2, composite
Two things *should* jump out at you.  First, the police cruiser is much farther up the image than the first photo for both of the above cases.  In fact, in the two examples above, the vehicle is not fully in frame in the first photo.  Optotraffic has stated previously that the distance from the speed sensors to the first photo is supposed to be 50 feet.  So why were the cars in the challenged citations not at the same point as the police cruiser supposedly traveling the same speed?

The second thing that should jump out is that the police cruiser traveled measurably farther than either of the vehicles shown in these two challenged citations.  The police cruiser appears to have traveled two full car lengths.  The other two vehicles in the challenged photos, not so much.  Those vehicles are almost end to end in the composite images.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Forest Heights Answers Charges of Camera Inaccuracy… with Plagiarism

The town of Forest Heights has posted their official responses to charges that their cameras are inaccurate, claims which returned to the public attention after defendants successfully defeated many tickets in court using time-distance calculations.   The town's posting claimed that they had seriously and independently investigated the matter. However in fact the posting was in fact copied almost word for work copied from a similar announcement made months early by another town which had faced similar complaints -- even citing the exact same examples from the other town, and copying the same incorrect technical details about how this type of camera works.

A May 3rd posting was made to the Forest Heights’ website stated
Recently some citizens have raised concerns regarding the accuracy of Forest Heights Speed Camera Program that was instituted on May 1, 2010. The Mayor, Council, and Police Chief take these concerns seriously, as it is critical that citizens have confidence that the Speed Camera Program is operating correctly. Over the last week town officials have reviewed public concerns and instituted an independent verification process. Below is an overview of how well the Town’s speed camera equipment operates.

This statement is almost word for word identical to a similar posting which the town of Cheverly made in the summer of 2010 in response to complaints from residents of THAT town about inaccurate speed readings by Optotraffic cameras.  From the Cheverly website:
Speed Camera Program Verification Analysis
A few residents have raised concerns regarding the accuracy of Cheverly’s Speed Camera Program that was instituted on June 17, 2010.  The Town Council, Town Administrator and Police Chief take these concerns seriously, as it is critical that residents have confidence the Speed Camera Program is operating correctly.  Over the last 10 days town officials have reviewed resident concerns and instituted an independent verification process.  Below is an overview of how the speed camera equipment operates and the elements of the Town’s review. 

We’ve created a document which compares the two towns' postings.  The only things we have changed were the font size and spacing for comparison purposes, the text of the posts is unchanged.  (We have also archived copies of the original web site postings from both Forest Heights and Cheverly to files, and have hard copies, in case either town remove or change their posting).

Perhaps the most interesting bit of plagiarism is Forest Heights’s description of the complaints:
One citizen argued that his own tickets images were evidence that proved the equipment was operating incorrectly. According to his measurements the photos indicated his car had only travelled 24 feet between the first and second photo. He erroneously claimed that the elapsed time between the photos was .461 seconds indicating that the car was travelling at approximately 36MPH based on his calculation of velocity as a function of distance over time.

Compared to Cheverly’s:
Ticket Photos: One resident submitted their ticket as evidence that the equipment was operating incorrectly.  According to their measurements the photos indicated their car had only travelled 24 feet between the first and second photo. The elapsed time between the photos was .461 seconds indicating that the car was travelling at approximately 36MPH based on the calculation of velocity as a function of distance over time.
Yes that's right, they cited the exact same example using almost the same words.  It so happens that none of the tickets from Forest Heights which we have examined had a time interval of 0.461 seconds. All of them were either 0.363 seconds or 0.4s.  It so happens that the speed limit at the Cheverly camera sites is 10mph lower than at the Forest Heights rt 210 site.  .363s is the time it takes to travel 25 feet at 47mph (the intended distance between photos for a vehicle traveling 12mph over a 35mph speed limit) and .462s is the time it takes to travel 25 feet at 37mph (12mph over a 25mph speed limit… the speed limit on Cheverly Avenue).

One could read this and come to the conclusion that when Forest Heights “reviewed public concerns” it did not actually address any of the examples which have been documented at their own camera sites!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sources of Optotraffic Camera Errors Examined

The website "The Skeptical Juror" has posted a detailed examination of Optotraffic's cameras, publishing information from the patents for the devices along with several theories into why these cameras could possibly have been producing errors such as those which have been reported in Forest Heights, Brentwood, College Park, Cheverly, and other towns in the area.

Of course, the mechanisms presented are only theories.  An they will continue to only be theories, until such time as there is a thorough investigation by a genuinely independent organization.  Towns such as Forest Heights, which budgeted to receive more speed camera fines in FY2011 than their entire FY10 budget, an amount more than $1000 in fines per resident of the town, cannot be trusted to conduct such an investigation. is calling on the State Highway Administration(who issues permits to these speed cameras which operate on state highways), and to Governor O'Malley (who signed statewide speed cameras into law), and the Maryland Attorney General (who provides legal advice, and legal cover, to local governments which run speed camera programs), and to state lawmakers(who voted for statewide speed cameras), to commission such an investigation, preferably one which includes a qualified outside organization such as the IACP. 

Or perhaps it is simply OK with state officials that one out of every-so-many innocent drivers will get tickets.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Howard County Approves Speed Camera Program

On May 2nd the Howard County Council voted to approve speed cameras in the county. Republican council member Gregory Fox was the sole vote against the program, and submitted several amendments to the bill intended to protect the rights of motorists and prevent the program from being used as a cash cow. The council did limit the number of cameras to 8, however that limit could be lifted at any time in the future, as a similar restriction was in Baltimore County earlier this year.

Howard County had been one of the first areas in Maryland to get red light cameras over a decade ago, and Howard County Senator Robey(D) was one of the key players in getting statewide speed caemras approved by the state legislature in 2009. However speed cameras were controversial in Howard County and, unlike many other jurisdictions in the state, County Executive Ulman waited until the police had conducted speed studies at local schools... and after the 2010 elections... to introduce legislation for a county-run program.

In a videotaped April 26th session, Police Chief Mahon discussed his planned implementation of the program for 1.5 hours with the council. Council Member Mary Kay Sigaty suggested at one point that the county should consider altering the speed limits in school zones, which currently range between 25mph and 45mph, to be 25mph in all locations. (time index 0:53:00-0:54:00).
"CM Sigaty: Do we want to think about having a uniform speed limit for school zones and if we did how would we make that happen?
CM Terrasa: Is your concern that there are some that are too high in school zones?
CM Sigaty: UMM HMM
CM Fox:So you're basically saying you'd like to see 25mph from 6am-8pm all year round in school zones?
CM Sigaty: I'm actually contemplating it as an idea."

The cameras, under state law, are restricted to operating in "school zones". In the April 26th session the council members discussed the ambiguity about what actually consituted a school zone, with some council members expressing concerns that existing school zones were not expansive enough. In a previous interview with, police Chief Mahon stated "We’re trying to be as upfront as we could possibly be. We’re going to be in existing school zones. That’s where we’re going to be.” However in his April 26th testimony the chief did not object to the idea of expanding school zones, stating that it was up to the Department of Public Works to define school zones.

A discussion was held regarding the type of contract arrangement. Council member Fox questioned the type of contract arrangement which the county might seek wtih their vendor. Fox pointed out that there is a restriction under state law against contingent fee contracts (time index 0:04:00-8:00),and that many jurisdictions in the state were circumventing that restriction and paying their contractors who build, maintain, and process violations from cameras and in some cases have much control over where cameras are placed, are in fact being paid per ticket. Chief Mahon stated that he would not object to a restriction against "a fee per citation". However when Council member Terasa questioned whether there was any relationship between the fee and the number of citations, the Chief responded stated that they were considering paying contactors per "batch of citations"... which council member Fox correctly pointed out was in fact still a contingent fee contract. (We note that the restriction in state law is not against "per ticket" payments, but payments to contractors which are "contingent on the number of citations issued or paid").

Stop Big Brother Maryland presented testimony at an April 20th hearing on the Howard County legislation, the gist of which was that in other parts of the state requirements under the law were not being complied with, and that ultimately promises being made to the to the public had not been kept. Fortunately that won't happen in Howard County.