Monday, June 20, 2011

Optotraffic Expands Business Amid Accuracy Questions

Optotraffic (a division of Sigma Space Corporation) has signed new speed camera contracts with the towns of Cambridge and Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, and is well on its way to securing a county wide contract for Prince George;s County. 

The Cambridge contract was approved in a May 9th meeting.  One council member, Robert Hanson, voted against the contract, while three other commissioners supported the cameras (contact info for commissioners is here). 

The Chesapeake Beach council empowered the town to negotiate the contract in a March meeting, with Council member Carpenter abstained, stating he had a "philosophical problem with speed cameras", and all other council members voting in favor (contact info for the Chesapeak Beach council can be found here).  The article on thebaynet.com stated the town received two bids for the contract, with Optotraffic being the lower.

The expansion has occurred at a time when the company's cameras have been accused of widespread errors. The mainstream press has reported credible reports of speed measurement errors by Optotraffic camers used in Forest Heights and Brentwood last year.  This website has also reported on credible errors in Cheverly , and College Park.  In particular one recipient of a ticket from an Optotraffic Camera in New Carollton was able to produce multiple forms of evidence showing an inaccurate speed measurement.  We have also received several reports of speed measurement errors from Optotraffic cameras in Riverdale Park and Berwynn Heights.

In addition, some drivers in Forest Heights have claimed they were unable to receive corut hearings to challenge their citations after 9 months or in one case over a year, receiving penalty notices and threats to suspend their registration instead of court dates.  The contractor, Optotraffic is responsible for scheduling court dates.  

In exchange for a percentage cut of each ticket Optotraffic builds the cameras, maintains the cameras, processes violations, provides software to allow police to electronically approve/rubber stamp citations.  Optotraffic has asserted they have never been shown evidence of an error by one of their cameras, and earlier this year produced a public relations video which they claimed proved their cameras were accurate, but upon close examination we found that video to actually validate the methods being used to document errors.  Optotraffic also began reducing the precision on their image timestamps after people started using those timestamps to prove speed measurement errors, in some cases with apparent errors of up to 30mph in Forest Heights.

Prince George's County announced this year that it would initiate a speed camera program of its own.  In a May 24th letter to one constituent the county responded to a complaint about Optotraffic cameras with a letter stating  "In January of this year, Prince George's County issued a request for a proposal for the procurement of an Automated Speed Camera Program.  Upon Completion of the evaluation process, the County issued an intent to award to the Sigma Space Corporation which utilizes Optotraffic speed cameras.  We are aware of the current issued concerning the speed cameras and are conducting further analysis in order to ensure that the County procures the most reliable camera system."

It has yet to be seen whether "further action" means doing something different, or just going ahead and signing the contract and deploying the cameras.  Optotraffic's cameras are NOT on the IACP's list of conforming law enforcement products, which is arguably the most qualified organization for testing law enforcement devices, nor does it function like any of the products on that list.  It is questionable how they can be described as "the most reliable camera system" compared to other types of cameras from which we have received fewer reports of errors.

Prince George's county has an unfortunate history of a 'pay to play' culture, which the Baker administration has sworn to put an end to.  However Optotraffic is taking no chances on this.  In addition to Sigma Space Corporation contributing $1000 to Rushern Baker's election campaign (according to the Maryland Campaign Finance database), both Optotraffic and Sigma Space Corporation are listed as a "Bronze Path Contributors"  to Rushern Baker's Inauguration Fund (meaning a contribution of $2,500.00 each)  Also listed at this level of contribution is The Traffic Group", a subcontractor which Optotraffic has been using to perform traffic surveys and produce permit applications by municipalities to use Optotraffic Speed Cameras on county and SHA owned roads.  The Baker administration cannot be faulted for who contributes to his campaign or inauguration.  However he does have a say in whether or not that affects the county's judgement on matters which affect his constituents' right to due process.  We hope that it will not, and that the county will conduct a SERIOUS and TRANSPARENT investigation into Optotraffic's cameras, preferably inviting a qualified organization such as the IACP, to evaluate to accuracy of Optotraffic's cameras and the due process issues associated with them.

List of Sigma Space Corporation(Optotraffic) campaign contributions:
Sigma Space                       $4000     O'Malley, Martin Friends Of                 05/12/2010
SIGMA SPACE CORPORATION   $1000     Baker, Rushern III Friends Of-Comm For Pol Change (CPC) 04/23/2010
SIGMA SPACE                 $500     Ramirez, Victor Friends Of                 09/16/2008
SIGMA SPACE                 $500     Ramirez, Victor Friends Of                 10/26/2007
SIGMA SPACE CORP     $350     Ramirez, Victor Friends Of                 06/08/2010
SIGMA SPACE CORP     $500     Ramirez, Victor Friends Of                 01/12/2010
Sigma Space                       $250     Gaines, Tawanna P. Friends Of                 10/27/2007
Sigma Space                       $250     Gaines, Tawanna P. Friends Of                 08/03/2010
Sigma Space                       $250     Gaines, Tawanna P. Friends Of                 12/29/2008
Sigma Space                       $250     Benson, Joanne C. Friends Of                 12/27/2007
Sigma Space                       $250     Benson, Joanne C. Friends Of                 12/15/2008
Sigma Space                       $100     Pena-Melnyk, Joseline Friends Of             12/10/2008
Sigma Space                       $1000    Healey, Anne Friends Of                 06/09/2009
Sigma Space                       $100     Waldstreicher, Jeff Friends Of                 01/06/2009
Sigma Space                       $250     Healey, Anne Friends Of                 05/30/2008
Sigma Space Corp              $250     Niemann, Doyle Friends Of                 06/03/2010
Sigma Space Corp              $250     Niemann, Doyle Friends Of                 01/05/2010
Sigma Space Corpf             $100     Rudolph, David Committe, The Citizens For         07/26/2009