Thursday, June 30, 2011

IIHS and Photo Enforcement Companies Conduct Media Effort To Sell Cameras To Public and Press

Faces with rising opposition to photo enforcement across the US, including the rejection of red light camera program by voters in Houston and the rejection by the City Police Commission of red light cameras in Los Angeles, photo enforcement companies and their supporters in the insurance industry are waging a desperate but coordinated campaign to convince the media and the public that red light cameras are popular.

The Insurance industry front group IIHS today released a fictitious survey claiming that the people in cities across the county support red light cameras.  Of the 14 cities polled, 13 of them allegedly showed majority support for red light cameras.  The lowest level of support for red light cameras was Long Beach, Calif. (48%).

This result is puzzling, given that PHOTO ENFORCEMENT HAS NEVER WON A DIRECT POPULAR VOTE IN THE US.  Photo enforcement has been placed to referendum in the US exactly 15 times, yet every single time the public was given this choice, the people voted against the cameras.  The US cities which have voted against photo enforcement are:
Houston, TX
Baytown, WA
Mulkilteo, WA
Anaheim, CA
Garfield Heights, OH
Sykesville, Maryland
Sulphur, Louisiana
Chillicothe, OH
Heath, OH
College Station, TX
Steubenville, OH
Peoria, AZ
Batavia, IL
Anchoragem AK
Arlington, TX

It is curious how none of the cities above were included in this survey.  It is also strange that if almost every city supports cameras why voters have NEVER voted in favor of photo enforcement in a popular vote?  One would have expected voters in at least one US city to have voted in favor of cameras, yet they have NEVER done so.  In most of those cases, including Sykesville Maryland, public officials CLAIMED that a majority of the population supported the cameras, but when the voters got to the booths that was proven false.

Friday, June 24, 2011

US Supreme Court Upholds Right to Confront Accuser

The US Supreme Court has upheld the right to confront and accuser in a ruling that could have broad implications for photo radar cases, according to an article in TheNewsPaper.com.
 ------------------------------------
In a decision that has wide-ranging implications for photo enforcement, speeding tickets and driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) charges, the US Supreme Court yesterday reconfirmed the Sixth Amendment right to confront one's accuser applies to analysts who claim to have certified evidence from a machine. The 5-4 decision concluded that "stand-in" expert witnesses are not a substitute for the individuals who actually conducted the tests. The decision broadens the applicability of the landmark Melendez-Diaz ruling from 2009, which has already led to appellate division cases in four California counties to throw out red light camera evidence.
[...]
"Suppose a police report recorded an objective fact -- Bullcoming's counsel posited the address above the front door of a house or the read-out of a radar gun," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority. "Could an officer other than the one who saw the number on the house or gun present the information in court -- so long as that officer was equipped to testify about any technology the observing officer deployed and the police department's standard operating procedures? As our precedent makes plain, the answer is emphatically 'No.'"

The court majority noted that using a surrogate witness would conceal any lapses or lies on the part of the certifying analyst. It also noted that the burden on the prosecution from the requirement of live testimony could have been cured by having Razatos retest the blood sample, which was preserved in accordance with New Mexico law.
[...]
The decision represented a rare coalition of the most liberal and most conservative members of the court. Ginsburg and President Obama's nominees to the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
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Read the full article and court decision on theNewsPaper.com

The decision could have relevance to cases of denied due process and denied right to face an accuser in Maryland.  Under Maryland law, drivers may request the "speed monitoring system operator" to appear in court.  However this person may or may not have anything to do with the actual operation of the device, and defendants have been given no right to confront the camera contractors who build, install, maintain, and process violations from the cameras in exchange for a percentage cut of the revenue. Furthermore, in 2009 the law was changed to modify the definition of a speed monitoring system operator from "an individual who operates a speed monitoring system" to "a representative of an agency which operates a speed monitoring system", an obvious effort by some Maryland lawmakers to provide cover for jurisdictions who choose to present someone with no responsibility for running the machines in court.

Even this right to face the operator has not been consistently upheld in Maryland.  When operators have failed to appear upon request, drivers are typically forced to prove they requested the operator with something like a certified mail receipt, and even in those cases district courts have not always dismissed the cases on that basis.  In particular Montgomery County on several occasions asserted that they do not need to present the operator in court for fixed-pole speed cameras.  This policy was adopted some time after one camera operator from Gaithersburg admitted in court that he was not working on the date of a violation, causing the judge to throw out the case.  Earlier this year StopBigBrotherMD.org tried to obtain documents pertaining to the basis for the policy of refusing to present the operator, under the Maryland Public Information. Montgomery County officials obstructed this request, stating that they would only release such records after a 6 month search to be begun only after they received a massive $43,000.00 payment.  When asked several times for and explanation of this expense, Montgomery County failed to respond.

We hope Montgomery County and other jurisdictions will reconsider the denial of the constitutional right to confront the accuser in light of the Supreme Court's decision.

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

Driver To File Suit Against Forest Heights For Denial of Due Process, Bogus Tickets

Gary Anderson has had enough.  He had requested court hearings for three speed camera tickets from Forest Heights which he had received in September of 2010, believing the cameras were inaccurate.  Over 9 months later all he had received were letters imposing late fees and threatening to suspend his registration.

Having failed to work out the matter with the MVA, and still unable to get a hearing date from Forest Heights (and the town's speed camera contractor, Optotraffic (a division of Sigma Space Corporation), who is responsible for scheduling court hearings), Gary decided his only recourse was to file suit in federal court against the Maryland MVA and Forest Heights.

Mr Anderson had good reason to be angry. The images for one of his citations is shown below:
(original images, click to enlarge)
 (Note : We've posted other photos of such apparent errors by Optotraffic cameras in Forest Heights and New Carrollton, and a disproportionate number of errors with this type of camera seem to have been with pickup trucks.  We will be posting a technical explanation why that is the case in the near future).
Here is a composite image of the two, using a technique successfully used by other drivers to challenge tickets from Optotraffic cameras.
 As you can see the two images are end-to-end, meaning the vehicle traveled almost exactly one truck length.  Using the formula of :
    mph = ((feet traveled )/(time interval in s)) * 3600 s/hr / (5280 ft/mile)
this would, based on the 0.3s shown on the citation and an estimated 17 foot distance, indicate a speed of 38.7mph.  At a .3s interval, the vehicle would have needed to travel 22 feet (5 feet more than the actual distance traveled) to be going 50mph.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I-270 To Get Speed Cameras Next Month in Reduced Speed Limit Zone

The SHA will be deploying speed cameras near the construction zones for two bridge projects on I-270 near MD 80(Fingerboard Road) and Bennett Creek.  The cameras will be deployed within the next 4 weeks until the end of the project in fall of 2012, according to an article in the Frederick Post.

The speed limit in the workzones has been reduced from 65mph to 55mph, meaning tickets will be issued starting at 2mph over the normal 65mph speed limit (unless of course the cameras are in error, in which case anyone can get a ticket regardless of their speed).  Tickets can be issued 24/7 "regardless of whether workers are present" (the reduced speed limit will also be in effect regardless of whether work is taking place).  I-270 is a major artery, with 82,000 vehicles per day.

The deployment of freeway cameras was recently announced on I-70 near South Street in Frederick, and on  the capital beltway, meaning that most major interstate highways in the state will soon have speed cameras on them.  Maryland's work-zone speed cameras have issued over $22million worth of tickets since the program's inception.  The cameras are owned and maintained the the state's contractor, ACS State and Local Solutions, who also operates the state's customer service line, mails citations, collects payments, and schedules court hearings.

Drivers in neighboring states, who will have no practical means of contesting tickets, are advised to avoid visiting the "Free State" if at all possible.  We also suggest they talk to their own federal lawmakers about the cautionary example which Maryland has become and the lack of due process being afforded to out of state drivers on interstate highways.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Carrollton Fails to Stand Behind Optotraffic Cameras in Court

Rich Ladieu had challenged a speed camera citation before, and won, and was ready for another fight.  He had gotten a second citation from New Carrollton, and he had absolute proof he had not.  Rich has a device called a "carchip", basically a mini "flight recorder" which continuously records driving statistics, including speed, and it showed his maximum speed at the time of the March 8th 4:01pm citation was 32mph, not 50mph as shown on the citation.(View Data)

He got to court, but when the judge called his name, nobody from the city of New Carrollton had bothered to come and represent the prosecution.  The judge dismissed his case.

click to enlarge original citation image
Mr Ladieu in fact had prepared a rather excellent proof that the camera, built by Optotraffic/Sigma Space Corporation, was in error.  In addition to the log file from his CarChip, Mr Ladieu also had a composite image similar to those which had been done in the case of reported Forest Heights errors.

Mr Ladieu has stated that his truck is 16 feet long.  Our composite image shows a distance traveled of one truck length PLUS about 3 feet.  Based on that we can estimate a distance traveled of roughly 19 feet.  Given the formula of
   MPH = (Ft Traveled/.4s) * (3600s/hr) / (5280 ft/hr) = 32.5mph
This confirms the speed measurement from the carship, indicating the speed on the citation was off by eighteen mph!  For the speed on the citation to be correct, it would have needed to travel over 29 feet in .4s, which would have been almost 2 full vehicle lengths.  The distance from front-to-front in the images above is nowhere near 2 vehicle lengths.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Capital Beltway to Get Speed Cameras

The Capital Beltway (I-495) will be getting speed cameras between University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue.  A new work zone is being set up there now and cameras will appear "within weeks" according to a story on WTOP.  SHA speed cameras are typically VITRONIC Poliscan cameras, provided by their contractor ACS, housed in a Jeep Liberty. The cameras will ticket people going at least 12mph over the speed limit.... unless of course the cameras are wrong, in which case we're all pretty much boned.

Under Maryland law governing workzone speed cameras, workzone cameras can issue tickets 24/7 "regardless of whether workers are present", and over 70%  of SHA workzone camera tickets have been issued when no work was taking place.  The SHA website shows that between November 2009 and May 31, 2011 the state's 6 freeway cameras have issued over 566,000 citations worth over $22million.

Optotraffic and Forest Heights Just Can't Get It Right

Another "Satisifed Optotraffic Customer", this time a 67 year old retired school teacher wrote to the Gazette that she had received erroneous speed camera tickets from Forest Heights.

When will Maryland officials start taking this matter seriously and put a stop to legalized fraud?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When to Fight a Speed Camera Ticket

ABCNews 7 did a story on ticket challenges, noting that many some speed camera tickets go unchallenged. They relate the story of the recipient of one ticket issued by DC:

"Tony Rodriguez got a speed camera ticket he should have challenged. For starters, the ticket information is incorrect.
The plate picture starts with H-9. But it was recorded as H-8. The ticket states the vehicle is a Chevy. But it’s a Mercury. And the car in the picture is a District cab. But Rodriguez’ taxi was a Diamond cab, which have diamond-shaped lights on the roof. That’s not what’s in the picture.
He also said he sold the cab years ago.
“I opened up the mail, I looked at it and started laughing,” he said." Rodriguez missed the date to challenge his ticket, however MPD did finally void the ticket.... after ABCNews 7 contacted them about it.