Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Special Thanks

This website would like to offer its thanks to the state lawmakers who had the clarity of foresight to sponsor House Bill 1044 in the last Maryland General Assembly session:   Delegates Susan K. McComas,  Kathy Afzali, Gail H. Bates, John W. E. Cluster, Jr.,  Adelaide C. Eckardt, Donald B. Elliott, William J. Frank, Ron George, Glen Glass, Michael J. Hough, Nicholaus R. Kipke, Michael A. McDermott, Pat McDonough, Warren E. Miller, Joseph J. Minnick, Nancy R. Stocksdale

HB1044 was intended to fix some of the gaping flaws in the state's speed camera law which have degraded the legal rights of honest, safe motorists.  It would have included several provisions which might have addressed problems currently being seen:
  • Stricter standards would have been imposed on the testing and certification of speed camera equipment
  • Courts would have been required to consider citation images as secondary evidence of speed and consider this to be exonerating if the timestamped images did not prove speeding
  • Closed the loophole allowing arrangements such as the per-ticket bounty which Baltimore City paid Xerox Corp
  • Records pertaining to speed cameras would  be required to be kept on file and required to be disclosed in response to a public information act request.
Recent events make clear how badly change of this sort is needed in order to correct the deep flaws in Maryland's system, and some did see this before now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Xerox Admits 5% Error Rate

Baltimore City's Speed camera Vendor, Xerox Corporation, has admitted that at five of the city's speed camera locations over five percent of citations issued were in fact the result of errors.

In the two page report released by Xerox, the company stated that they had examined a total of 7000 citations and concluded that at five locations 5.2% of citations were errors that slipped through the review process and were issued.
Report on Camera Errors By Xerox, see PDF version here
"In a limited number of cased, radar effects can occur.  Radar effects are caused by reflection, refraction and absorption"... 
"Based on review of the images alone, we identified five (5) locations that demonstrated higher incidents of radar effects than is typical and need further investigation to determine the root cause."... 
"As part of the review, Xerox examined over seven thousand issued citations for radar effects that may have resulted in erroneous speed recordings.  With respect to seventy eight percent of the eighty three (83) locations, the review showed incidence of radar effects that were not identified in processing of approximately one-half of one percent (.5%).  Five (5) of the eighty-three(83) sites revealed some environmental issues causing an unusually high rate of occurrence of radar effects, typically attributed to the presence of high profile vehicles in the field of view.  A more extensive review of these locations showed incidence of radar effects that were not identified in processing of 5.2 percent (5.2%). The five locations are
* 1400 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B
* 1700 Block of Cold Spring Lane W/B
* 400 Block of Franklin Street W/B
* 500 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B
* 1300 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Baltimore Camera Cited Non-Moving Car For Speeding

Baltimore City's speed camera program continues to be pummeled by bad news about erroneous speed camera readings.  The Baltimore Sun reports that one camera located at 1700 E Cold Spring Lane issued a speed camera citation to a Mazda 5 which was STATIONARY at the time.  The citation, dated April 24 2012, accused the vehicle of traveling 38mph in a 25mph zone, when in fact both the citation images and the recorded video prove it was completely stopped at a red light and not moving at the time.  The motorist in question requested a court hearing, scheduled for December 14.

You can see the video and citation images in the article on the Baltimore Sun website.

Baltimore city claimed to the Baltimore Sun that every citation goes through "two layers of review".  Every citation is required to bear the signature of a police officer who affirmed "based on inspection of recorded images" that the cited vehicle was in violation, according to state law.

The erroneous speed readings by Baltimore cameras were first discovered to have affected large vehicles such as trucks and delivery vans passing one camera at 1300 W Cold Spring Lane.  However the Baltimore Sun investigation has since concluded that apparent speed measurement errors have occurred with at least 7 cameras and have affected regular passenger cars as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

O'Malley Says Speed Camera Programs Shouldn't Pay Per Ticket

The Baltimore Sun reports that Governor O'Malley has stated that speed camera programs should not pay their contractors on a per ticket basis, a type of contract which is now common throughout the state.
"Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that state law bars speed camera contractors from being paid based on the number of citations issued or paid — a so-called bounty system approach used by Baltimore City, Baltimore County and elsewhere in Maryland.
"The law says you're not supposed to charge by volume. I don't think we should charge by volume," O'Malley said. "If any county is, they need to change their program.""
This would be the first time that Governor O'Malley, who signed statewide speed cameras into law in 2009, has publicly spoken out against a practice by local governments which is now commonplace throughout the state despite a provision of the law which was intended to ban it.

State law contains a provision that "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  Fiscal policy notes from various speed camera bills and comments from some lawmakers in 2008 confirm the intent of this was to prevent contractors from being paid a cut of each ticket.  However NUMEROUS speed camera programs in the state circumvent this rule by claiming that they, not their contractor "operate" the cameras.  This is despite the fact that the contractors have typically substantial control over the machines, and are often responsible for deploying and maintaining cameras, arranging to have cameras calibrated, as well as in some cases defining the nature of the calibration tests, and in some cases also performing processing and mailing of violations and scheduling of court hearings.  (The actual contractor responsibilities vary from one program to another.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Address Camera Errors

The ongoing controversy about erroneous speed camera citations issued by the city of Baltimore and contractor Xerox Corporation, has prompted several state lawmakers to declare that they wish to see legislation to prevent errors and close loopholes in the state's speed camera law.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Emails Reveal More Prior Complaints From Erroneous Baltimore Camera

 We previously reported that Baltimore City had a previous complaint about an error by a camera at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane that was discussed by city officials and their contractor Xerox Corp (formerly ACS State and Local Solutions) in February and March of 2012 -- the local press and city officials have since confirmed the existence of such errors.  Now, additional documents have been provided to StopBigBrotherMD.org which document that problems by this camera were ongoing, and were known to officials in Baltimore City Officials in July of 2012.

The following email was obtained through a Public Information Act Request by a reader of StopBigBrotherMD.org and was then provided to us.  We have redacted the names of city employees and the company making the complaint, but the company is a different one than those which we have reported on previously or which have been named in major press reports.

The emails document a complain received from a Virginia-based trucking company on July 13 regarding a citation they received dated 6/28/2012 of West Cold Spring Lane, claiming their truck had been traveling 70mph in a 35mph school zone.  "I have a concern about the speed of 70MPH our truck was clocked at in a 35mph zone.  I would like to confirm that radar unit is working properly and the speed is accurate.  Our truck speed is set at 65mph on the ECM."  Many trucks have ECMs (Engine Control Modules) programmed to act as speed limiters, so that the vehicle cannot exceed the programmed speed.  In a follow up email, the company points out that the tractor trailer was in the right lane preparing to make a turn.  "We have a real issue with our driver if he was in fact going that fast", alluding to the possible consequences to a professional driver accused of traveling at twice the posted speed limit.

On July 13, city engineers forwarded the complaint to employees at Xerox Corp: Ryan Nicolas and Donovan Wilson.  "Ryan and Donovan, Please see email below and copy of citation attached, this is a concern and we need to resolve this issue before it gets out of hand.  We have already supplied the information of several citations with similar issue of erroneous high speed being recorded at Coldspring and Grand View which is very difficult at this location, please have system checked out and update."

As of July 24, the matter was still not resolved.  The company wrote "Due date is 7-25... yikes!! That's tomorrow.  Do we get an extension on paying this?"  The city responded, copying ACS "We have completed our investigation and will get back to you soon with the results.  Thank you for your patience."

However the investigation is still ongoing as of December.  The Baltimore Sun has reported there are indications the errors may not be limited to trucks, and may have affected passenger cars as well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

State Audit Finds Flaws In SHA Speed Camera Program

An audit of the Maryland State Highway Administration by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services found that there were significant flaws in the implementation of Maryland SafeZones speed camera program, in the way the program's contract was bid and how equipment certified and tested.

The DLS report found that "SHA awarded a contract for operating the current Maryland SafeZones Program, even though the contractor’s proposal was not in compliance with certain RFP requirements"
Of particular significance, the report noted that the proposal from the state's selected contractor for the program (ACS, now part of Xerox Corp) did not meet two significant RFP requirements.  First, the report noted that equipment had not been approved by the International Association of Chiefs of Police
"At the time of the contract award and as of April 2012, the specific speed detection equipment (scanning LIDAR, a laser system) listed in the contractor’s proposal, and ultimately used, was not reported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as conforming to its guidelines, as required by the RFP. The contract required that all equipment conform with IACP’s speed detection equipment standards to provide assurance of its calibration and functionality. "  
The report also noted the RFP did not meet the requirement for testing of equipment:
"Prior to awarding the contract, SHA used a consulting firm to conduct a system accuracy test of the contractor’s proposed equipment in an active highway work zone. However, the consulting firm deviated from SHA’s testing instructions and therefore, the basis for the conclusion that the equipment met performance requirements is questionable. For example, SHA directed the consulting firm to have test vehicles perform 40 test runs in which the contractor’s speed measuring equipment would be compared to two independent radars, one which was inside and one which was outside the vehicle. However, the consulting firm only conducted 18 test runs and only reported the results of 8 of those runs. Moreover, five of those eight reported runs were made using vehicles lacking independent interior radar, so the results could only be measured against one independent radar, rather than two as planned. Nevertheless, the consulting firm stated that the observed results fell within acceptable standards, and SHA’s technical evaluation team gave an overall “good” ranking of the contractor for the applicable bid evaluation attribute. SHA could not provide a reasonable explanation or documentation regarding why the tests were considered sufficient."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Baltimore Courts Exonerated Some Drivers of Erroneous Tickets

More drivers and companies have stepped forwards about speed camera citations issued by the City of Baltimore based on erroneous speed measurements, and some of the drivers have been exonerated in court.

The Baltimore Sun did an extensive report on problems with the city's speed camera program, including information that citations had been issued based on what appear to have been erroneous speed readings.

Excerpts from the Baltimore Sun story:
The tractor-trailer hit 70 mph as it passed the Poly-Western high school campus on Cold Spring Lane, barreling down a turn lane at twice the legal speed limit. Or so the $40 citation claimed. Just before Falls Road, a pole-mounted speed camera clocked the truck with radar and snapped some pictures. A ticket soon went out in the mail. 
On paper it seemed like just the kind of blatant, dangerous school-zone speeding violation that the ubiquitous enforcement cameras are designed to catch and deter.
Except the truck wasn't going 70 mph that September morning — or even fast enough to get a ticket, The Baltimore Sun determined after examining the camera's time-stamped photos and measuring how far the vehicle traveled. Simple math proves the automated camera was off the mark.
 
The camera had been misfiring for months, in fact. And city officials knew it.
Going back to last winter, the truck's owner got three other tickets from the same camera, and in each case the camera's own photos show the citations were wrong. Other truck companies report similar complaints: Same camera, same issue.
 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Baltimore Dumps Xerox

Baltimore City has dumped speed camera contractor ACS(now a division of Xerox Corporation), awarding its speed camera contract to competitor Brekford Corporation.

Brekford was one of two companies competing against incumbent Xerox Corp.  The other, Redflex, has run into troubles of its own elsewhere when it was recently barred from bidding on the city of Chicago's speed camera contract after ethics charges emerged.

City officials stated that Xerox's bid for a renewed contract was "technically deficient", according to the Sun.  Xerox Corp was displeased with the decision:  
"If you don't like my client, do it the right way," said Robert Dashiell, an attorney for Xerox State & Local Solutions Inc., formerly called ACS State & Local Solutions, the longtime operator. "Don't came up with this fictitious argument that somehow we aren't responsive."
Brekford has up til now been servicing programs in smaller jurisdictions including Laurel.  Brekford took over Cheverly's speed camera program from Optotraffic after that town complained of camera errors.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Baltimore Saw Previous Problem With Cold Spring Lane Speed Camera

Baltimore has released an email in response to a Public Information Act request by StopBigBrotherMD.org showing that the city had experienced, and confirmed a previous problem with a speed camera at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane, which caused it to cite a vehicle for a speed it was not traveling.  This is at the same location where we recently reported about apparently erroneous speed camera citations which had been issued to trucks.

The email originated on February 7, 2012 from the safety manager for a well known food products company which operates a fleet of delivery vehicles.  (We have redacted the company's name and the name of a city employee from the email)

"Citation Number [redacted]
 Location 1300 block of W coldspring lane
 The video shows him not going fast.  Please review and consider citation.  Also, please request a calibration from the private company that owns the speed camera."

An engineer in the Baltimore Department of Transportation reported the problem to ACS State and Local Solutions (a part of Xerox Corporation).  Two days later ACS's product manager Donovan Wilson replied
"I reviewed this citation and it seems that the vehicle was not traveling 47 mph.  Should I request a void for this citation?"

On March 5 the Baltimore City employee followed up on the situation "Has the citation been voided?  Also, has the issue with the camera been rectified?"

Mr. Wilson replied for ACS on March 7 "The void request for this citation and te citations for The Alameda were sent to Parking Fines yesterday evening."

The final email response from ACS never stated the cause of the problem or whether the issue was "rectified".  We at StopBigBrotherMD believe it was NOT corrected.

In addition to the company who we previously reported had complained about erroneous speed readings being issued to their trucks, another company has also contacted StopBigBrotherMD.org, claiming they have evidence that citations which they received from 1300 Cold Spring Lane, as well as another camera of apparently the same type at 3800 GreenSpring Avenue, were in error.  They are contesting those citations.  This means at least 3 companies have separately complained about the accuracy of the cameras on Coldspring lane this year.

StopBigBrotherMD.org tried to contact the Baltimore DOT, department of Finance, and Police on October 18, asking for the citations mentioned in our original story to be re-reviewed, and for the names of the officers who reviewed the citations.  We have not received any reply to that request after 19 days, even after we tried to follow up several times, and even though the city was capable of providing an immediate response.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Baltimore Wages War On School Bus Drivers Over Camera Tickets

The Baltimore Press and City officials have been tripping over each other to condemn the city's school bus drivers after it was revealed that many red light and speed camera tickets had been issued to buses.  Some have been calling for school bus drivers who receive citations to be suspended or fired, despite the fact that upon close examination some of the alleged violations are questionable and perhaps never should have even been issued in the first place.

ABCNews2 ran a story showing that there had been 18 red light camera tickets issued to Baltimore City District Bus drivers and 19 to Baltimore county drivers   The story contained videos showing some of the alleged red light violations.  However, a close examination of the video reveals that many of them showed buses entering the intersection a small fraction of a second before reaching the intersection, or even showing the vehicle already at the stop line when the light turned red, or showed vehicles that were making a right turn on red.  No mention of the split second nature of those violations was made during the story, or of the fact that some might not be violations at all.  Since the mainstream press chose not to examine this, and instead to presume guilt on the part of all drivers receiving citations, we will examine them now.

The following video clip in fact shows a vehicle making a right turn.

This is the entire clip for this violation from the ABCNews2 story... starting a mere second before the actual "violation", but it looks like the bus may in fact have been accelerating from a full stop.  There is no indication of a "no turn on red" sign in the video, indicating that this may in fact have been a PERFECTLY LEGAL right turn.  Even if a 100% full stop did not occur, there's every appearance that the bus was at least virtually stopped and that the turn was in fact safe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rockville Sees Enormous Jump In Red Light Camera Tickets

Data released by the City of Rockville showed that their newly upgraded red light cameras, which ticket for slow moving right turns on red, have produced an order of magnitude increase in the number of citations being issued compared to prior months.

After we noted that many cameras deployed by Rockville had been flashing when there was no apparent violation, and began receiving reports from large numbers of motorists being ticketed for making right turns on red from Rockville, StopBigBrotherMD.org filed a public information act request with the city.  The request included the monthly total number of red light camera violations for the city’s red light cams, including the number which were for right turns, for 2011 and 2012.  The following data sheet was provided:

In the first 3 months of 2012, and all of 2011, the total for ten red light cameras was less than 900 per month.  In April the city changed vendors and the old cameras were switched off, with no violations collected for 3 months.

Then in August, after five of the new model cameras were deployed, the city issued 5557 citations from just half the number of cameras.

Comparing the August numbers for the 3 pre-existing camera sites to their averages from 2012:
This shows that these three camera sites saw between 9.8 and 28.7 times as many violations as they were producing in the prior year.  These citations, if fully paid, would total $416,775 in fines FOR ONE MONTH.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Some In DC Want Cameras to Target Maryland and Virginia

In a debate among candidates for DC council, council member Michael Brown argued that speed cameras should be place for the specific purpose of targeting Maryland and Virgina residents, demonstrating that one of the motives for camera enforcement by DC is to create a de facto commuter tax on visitors to the nation's capital.. From WTOP.Com:
DC Council Member Michael Brown
 "If the cameras are going to be anywhere, let's at least put them on the fringes of the city so we can get the Maryland and Virginia folks to pay those fines rather than us," Brown said.

When the moderator pointed out that 65 percent of the fines are already issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers, Brown replied, "What's wrong with 100 percent of those being from Maryland and Virginia?"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Speed Camera Salesman Cited for Speeding AGAIN

Last August reported how a high profile spokesman for Maryland based speed camera company Optotraffic, Mickey Shepherd, was caught speeding in May of 2011.  After that incident was reported, Mr Shepherd replied to us in an email:  "In regards to the violation, and your publication of this information, my only comment is that I appreciate the reminder.  These reminders only serve to help in my efforts to obey the law."  Despite the reminder, court records now show a second incident under Mr Shepherd's name dated September 11, 2012, for allegedly driving 71mph, 16mph over the speed limit:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Riverdale Park Says Public Cannot Challenge Fraud

The Town of Riverdale Park has requested the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that the town speed camera program committed FRAUD by allowing civilians to approve citations bearing the signature of a police officer who never signed or reviewed the tickets.

In a 129 page motion, the Riverdale Park asserted that the plaintiffs have no legal right to pursue their claim against the city on six separate grounds --NONE OF WHICH CHALLENGED THE ACCUSATION THAT A POLICE OFFICER'S NAME WAS FORGED ON THOUSANDS OF SPEED CAMERA TICKETS HE DID NOT REVIEW.

The first basis for dismissal which the town claimed, was regarding the recent case Baker v Montgomery, where the state high court basically ruled that speed camera agencies are above the law and can't be sued, regarding the issue of contingent fee contracts.  As we anticipated when that ruling came out, it is now being used as a basis to condone blatantly illegal actions by a local government.  Second, the town asserts that only Riverdale Park residents can assert standing as 'taxpayers'.  Third and fourth, they claim the defendants did not comply with the 180 day time limit in the "Local Government Tort Claims Act", a law which limits the public's right to sue the government. Fifth, they defend their right to issue citations from a device which --- according to it's manufacturer -- does not provide visually conformable evidence of speed. 

NONE of these challenge the basic allegation that town officials and Optotraffic committed fraud by forging the signature of a police officer who did not review the citations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trucking Company Questions Accuracy of Baltimore Camera Tickets

A manager from trucking company has questioned the accuracy of citations issued to them by speed cameras in Baltimore, claiming that evidence images and videos captured by the cameras shows the large semi trucks could not have been traveling at the high speeds recorded on the citations.

The Safety Manager for a PA based trucking company forwarded a citation alleging that a large semi truck had been traveling 70mph in a 35mph zone at 1300 Block of W. Coldspring Lane E/B
"This is the 6th citation we've received at this location since 1/07/12 and it's getting out of hand.  I reviewed each video personally and there was never any indication our driver was speeding.  I sent a letter to city a few months ago expressing my concerns, but heard nothing back, of course.", He wrote to us in an email.

The manager provided access to the images and videos for four violations, showing different trucks (and presumably different drivers), all recorded at the same location for various dates in 2012.  This is a company which operates hundreds of vehicles, and may have had many vehicles passing this speed camera a great many times in 2012, making the possibility of multiple occurrences of what would be a low-probability error for a single instance mathematically much more likely over that period. 

Most speed cameras in use in Maryland capture still pictures only.  However this particular camera appears to be configured to collect 3 second long video clips.  The citation images read 'speed on green', indicating this may be a converted red light camera (some red light cameras can be converted to speed cameras requiring only a software change, and red light cameras DO record video).  The four alleged violations claimed the vehicles were traveling between 59 and 70mph.  You can judge whether this is accurate for yourself.

Event #1:  The first alleged violation was on 2/10/2012 and claimed a speed of 65mph.  The image timestamps are given to 3 decimal places, giving a time interval of 0.500 seconds.  You can see from the images the distance traveled is about 1/2 the length of the trailer.  
A vehicle traveling 65mph would travel 47.7 feet in 0.5 seconds. The trailer on a typical 18-wheel semi is 53 feet long.  Half the length of such a trailer would be only 26 or 27 feet.  A trailer long enough for 1/2 its length to equate to that speed would need to be close to twice the road legal length in MD.  In addition, the second image shows a second vehicle following the truck, a portion of the vehicle is in the first image as well.  While the car is not sufficiently in frame in both images to estimate its speed, you certainly cannot conclude from this that the truck was traveling far faster than the prevailing speed of traffic.  The VIDEO captured by this camera seems to support that:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Montgomery County Council President Seeks Gas Tax Hike

Dissatisfied by the state legislature's unwillingness to increase gas taxes state wide this past year, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berlinger is seeking authority to allow county lawmakers to unilaterally impose higher gas taxes in the county.
"I've been a strong proponent of an increase in the statewide gas tax, but if Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore or other communities don't share that desire and we can't get that to pass, then I see no reason why Montgomery County shouldn't be able to go forward and have a gas tax of comparable nature," Berlinger was quoted by the Washington Examiner
Unlike a statewide tax, a county tax would allow Montgomery to keep all of the revenue, Berliner said.
Read Complete story on the Washington Examiner

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Optotraffic Makes Ohio Town Part of Maryland

Maryland welcomes the addition of its newest town, Elmwood Place Ohio, courtesy of speed camera contractor Optotraffic.

The Maryland based contractor has expanded their business to Ohio, and their cameras have been issuing thousands of tickets in the town of Elmwood Place Ohio, where the company is "operating" the cameras.  However to simplify their business model, Optotraffic has made Elmwood Place a part of Maryland, with the issued citations stating the location of the offense was "Elmwood Place, MD", not Ohio, according to a story on WCPO.

WCPO states that one of Elmwood Place's three cameras was taken out of service by Optotraffic, without explanation from the town.

According to WLWT news finances apparently played a roll in the decision to deploy the cameras. "There's no denying raising revenue is what prompted this," said Councilman Jerald Robertson. "We are in very bad financial shape."
WCPO also noted that one of the cameras was deployed on private property without getting permission from the owner.

Welcome to Maryland Elmwood Place!!!  We hope you have better luck than some of Optotraffic's old customers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

DC Government Rolls Around in Big Pile of Speed Camera Money

(updated 10/21)
The DC government raked in a record $85 million in photo ticketing fines during the fiscal year ending July 2012, according to the Washington Examiner.  This amount was up from $55million the year before.  The city had initially reported $65 worth of revenue, but the figure went up substantially when the final numbers came in.

The city reportedly experienced a $23million surge in camera revenue towards the end of the year, contributing to the city running a substantial budget surplus.  This brings DC one step closer to their ultimate goal of charging motorists and other US taxpayers admission to the nation's capital.  Mayor Gray previously stated his desire to 'cover the city" in speed cameras.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into Mayor Gray's Campaign continues.

Friday, September 28, 2012

PA Resident Gets 2 Tickets Without Visiting Maryland

StopBigBrotherMD.org was recently contacted by a motorist from Pennsylvania who was ticketed not once but twice for a vehicle which did not belong to her:
"I've received 2 incorrect tickets for speeding around Baltimore.  I live in PA, and there is another PA plated car with the same number as me, except where I have an M they have a W.  The picture from the last ticket is during the day and fairly clear, it's just that PA's W and M are pretty narrow.

The ticket says "Sworn to or affirmed by" with a signature, but it is obviously not checked.  The car in the pictures is a silver Honda, whereas I have a dark brown VW.  They look nothing alike.

Calling the customer service line lead to a review and dismissal of the 1st ticket, and I'm on the same path with this one, but if the other car was the same or similar to mine would I just be found guilty?  It's also a hassle just to go through this process, but nothing compared to if I have to go all the way down for a court date ever.
"

We've reported on cases of errors by cameras many times.  Baltimore City issued a speed camera ticket ticket to a motorist who have been dead for years.  The city has issued tickets to an incorrect vehicle in cases where the images were so dark the car could not even be seen, in a case where it took that ticket recipient months to get the 'offense' removed from their MVA record.  There have been at least three separate instances where Baltimore erroneously issued thousands of tickets from cameras configured to the wrong speed limit from one camera in 2010 and agan from two different cameras in 2012, meaning the problem may actually be getting worse.  WBAL also reported how Baltimore City's red light camera program once issued thousands of tickets "signed" by a police officer who had been deceased for months.

The SHA's cameras around Baltimore are not blameless either... one motorist wrote to the Baltimore Sun about receiving a citation for someone else's car, and needed to take off work and drive 54 miles to contest the ticket.

To officials who say "if you don't speed you won't get a ticket", we say BULL!  With the faulty quality control some speed camera programs have been getting away with, you don't even need to visit Maryland to get a ticket.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rockville Using Right Turn Cameras

The City of Rockville has been using its red light cameras to ticket vehicles for right turns on red at intersections where there is not a 'no turn on red' sign.

Our inquiry into this matter began when many people noticed red light cameras in Montgomery County flashing with no obvious explanation, and that this was happening frequentlyWTOP inquired of Montgomery County Police, and police spokesperson Captain Paul Starkes stated that "It's a warning flash" and "It's something that is meant to get the driver's attention".

"In our opinion", Montgomery County's explanation (to put it as politely as possible) does not accurately explain the situation.  One does not send 'warnings' to vehicles from behind.  And to do so would be a completely non-standard traffic signal under the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

It turns out that cameras in Montgomery County which were deployed by the City of Rockville under their contract with Xerox Corporation(formerly ACS State and Local Solutions, the same contractor Montgomery County uses), have now been configured to ticket for right turns.  And in order to capture images of slow-moving right turns, they likely needed a lower threshold for taking photos.  Indeed if you read Rockville's page on red light cameras it states:
"If the speed of a vehicle at a certain distance prior to the stop bar is at or above a pre-determined threshold speed, then the cameras will initiate the photo sequence to photograph the vehicle prior to the stop bar and again once the vehicle has fully entered the intersection on a steady red light."
Clearly these are not "warning flashes"... the device is taking photos. Despite the typical narrative which photo enforcement programs only photograph people who break the law, red light cameras frequently photograph non-violators, because othewise they could not capture the first image which must be taken before entering the intersection.  Citation reviewers are supposed to sort them out later.  And in order to ticket for right turns, they need to make the device more sensitive... thus photographing more non-violations, and more 'flashes'.

Making a right turn on red is legal in Maryland, however it is required by law to stop prior to the white stop line (as per transportation article 21-202 section i).

HOWEVER, there is no indication that it was ever the legislative intent of the state's red light camera law to ticket for slow moving right turns.  If you read article 21-202.1, you will not see ANY mention of right turns.  It refers to 'That the driver of the vehicle passed through the intersection in violation of § 21-202(h) ', but never specifically mentions turns.  Likewise if you look at the original fiscal policy notes for the legislation, you won't see any reference to right turns, it refers to 'red light running', not making turns.  Furthermore, the statute states "(c)   This section applies to a violation of § 21-202(h) of this subtitle at an intersection monitored by a traffic control signal monitoring system." and the citation (as directed by law) specifies that the citations are a violation or article § 21-202(h).  § 21-202(h) is the section of the law which refers to red light running.  Right turn violations are specifically addressed under article § 21-202(i).  One could reasonably make the argument that red light cameras were introduced in order to ticket for straight through violations, but that they were not originally intended to be used for turns.

The fact is that red light cameras were sold to the public on the basis of combatting deliberate straight-through red light running, which have a natural deterrent for most people that value their own safety.  However slow moving right turns on red are extremely unlikely to cause accidents.  One study showed that an average motorist could drive a billion miles, the distance from Earth to Jupiter and back, before being involved in an accident that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn. 

Moreover, with vehicles moving at single digit speeds, a driver could quite possibly believe they had stopped from their perspective inside the car... the only perspective they have to work with at that time.

We  filed a public information act request with Rockville for information about how many of their red light camera violations are due to right turns, but they have stated they do not collect this information.  However in other jurisdictions where photo ticketing for right turns is done, right turn violations VASTLY outnumber straight-through violations.  In LA, for example, right turns constituted 80% of all violations.  In a recent case in Knoxville, when the state banned the practice of ticketing for right turns the number of citations city wide dropped 87% from 58,000 to 8000 for a 6 month period, indicating how many of their violations were in fact coming from turns.  So far our anecdotal information indicates that the number of right turn on red tickets being issued by Rockville may be huge.

Here are some examples of the alleged violations which Rockville has issued tickets for recently:

You can judge for yourself whether these were safe turns.  In each of these instances, the motorists had slowed to single-digit speeds, and had adequate time to confirm that yes, the way was clear.  With several of Rockville's right turn on red cameras, such as on Gaither Road and Gude Drive, there is not even any cross-traffic to worry about... traffic only comes from vehicles making right turns which can easily be seen.

In our opinion, the idea of creating a vast network of surveillance devices to catch non-dangerous technical violations was not how red light cameras were sold to the public.  The legislative history for the state's red light camera law makes no mention of turns whatsoever and does not indicate this was the intended purpose.  To sell photo enforcement to the public under one set of assumptions, and then use it to enforce a different and much less serious technical violation, is a typical "bait and switch".  If that is what red light cameras were going to be used for, it should have been stated from the outset, and it was not.

A policy like this, which is bound to issue vast numbers of tickets to motorists with long safe driving records, should have been widely announced prior to its introduction.  We cannot find any indication that this was done or that signage was changed near the cameras to accurately describe the city's camera policy.

This is where we like to remind people that when voicing complaints about matters of POLICY they should contact elected officials in the City of Rockville or the state legislature.  Calling the phone number on the citation(which is answered by a contract), or to police(who only implement policy) will simply result in the complaint vanishing into the ether. It is NOT appropriate for elected officials to forward complaints about a matter of policy to police, and people should complain loudly if they do.

-----------------------------------------------------------
Additional Data 09/27/2012:
In a 1995 report to Congress,
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the relative impact of right-turn-on-red(RTOT) on traffic safety was "very small". 

The NHTSA concluded that based on nationwide data from the FARS (fatality analysis reporting system) "less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. FARS, however, does not discern whether the traffic signal was red." and therefore the number occurring on red was likely to be far less.  Examining data from four states (including Maryland) which specifically recorded whether accidents occurred during a turn on red, the study concluded that:  
  • Right-Turn-On-Red crashes represent a very small proportion of the total number of traffic crashes in the four states (0.05 percent). 
  • RTOR injury and fatal crashes represent a fraction of 1 percent of all fatal and injury crashes (0.06 percent). 
  • RTOR crashes represent a very small proportion of signalized intersection crashes (0.4 percent).
Even these numbers included accidents occurring on any right turn on red, including those which were not 'rolling turns'.  In fact their data suggests that the risk posed by right turns on red is so small that the percentage of accidents involve cars making RTORs may actually be several times lower than the percentage of accidents where cars were turning right ON GREEN.

The NHTSA concluded that "there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by right-turn-on-red crashes.  These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. Because the number of crashes due to right-turn-on-red is small, the impact on traffic safety, therefore, has also been small."
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Long, Difficult Road to Imperfect Justice

Circuit Court Order to District Court
Motorists whose right to due process is discarded by District courts may need to file expensive appeals in order to have the details of their case heard.  Here is the tail of one defendant's long, but eventually successful, struggle to get citations issued by Forest Heights and Optotraffic dismissed in circuit court and vacate an incorrect district court ruling.

Some of our frequent readers may be familiar with the saga of Will Foreman of Eastover Auto.  A fleet of vehicles owned by Eastover Auto was issued a large number of speed camera citations by the Town of Forest Heights (with multiple vehicles operated by multiple drivers over many months).  Mr Foreman alleged, using time-distance calculations from the citations themselves, that the speed measurements recorded by Optotraffic's cameras were erroneous.

Mr Foreman had successfully challenged five of the citations up until April of 2011.  Then suddenly, Eastover Auto, and everyone else we were in contact with on the matter, mysteriously stopped receiving court dates for Forest Heights Speed camera citations for months.  Then, at the same time when Prince George's county announced the beginning of their speed camera program, Mr Foreman and others who had been waiting up to a year for hearings were finally awarded court dates in August of 2011.  And every one of them was found guilty.  In this case the judge refused to hear any arguments regarding the accuracy of the cameras, and Optotraffic argued that citation images cannot be used as evidence of speed.

Foreman had become one of those leading the charge against the alleged inaccuracy of Optotraffic's cameras.  After the ruling Optotraffic and their clients(notably including College Park) launched a PR campaign, with Optotraffic issuing press releases which attacked Mr. Foreman personally and claimed the verdicts proved the accuracy of Optotraffic's cameras.

Future hearings for Forest Heights had the same outcome for most defendants. One individual who's 40,000 lb RV had been accused of speeding while towing a car was found guilty, with the same judge accepting Optotraffic's argument that images could not be used to exonerate a defendant of speeding.  In another case an elderly defendant was thrown in jail for asserting his innocence in court.  Another judge brazenly stated that she would not hear any argument other than that another person was driving and to present that driver, and that no argument that the speed reading was incorrect would be considered.

Documents later released by the town of Cheverly proved that some Optotraffic cameras had experienced "False Triggers" and incorrect speed measurements.  However a court refused to admit this evidence (Even though the government is permitted to present evidence "without authentication" in speed camera hearings, according to the wording of state law).  StopBigBrotherMD.org also obtained a record from the town of New Carrollton confirming that this jurisdiction had also experienced a 'false trigger' event (see document).  This, in our opinion, proves beyond any doubt that some errors have occurred with these devices.  Forest Heights, on the other hand, refused to provide documents pertaining to possible or alleged camera errors in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, even though they clearly had received such complaints at the time we made our requests.

Mr Foreman appealed several of his citations to circuit court.  He was required to pay the fines in advance, plus a $23 per ticket district court cost, plus a $80 PER CITATION fee for each citation being appealed.  This shows how economically impossible it would be to appeal every $40 citation issued by a speed camera program which has a systematic problem (which the state high court has stated is the only way for defendants to contest such issues).

Foreman attempted to subpoena documents from Forest Heights for his defense, but the town refused to provide any of the requested documents in court.  He also attempted to get the SHA to authenticate documents which he wanted to admit as evidenceForeman reported to us that the Maryland Attorney General's office advised the SHA not to cooperate with his requestThis demonstrates what we believe is yet another example of how the Attorney General's office (or as I refer to them 'The Department of Helping the Government Break the Law') has actively worked to limit the public's access to due process and has helped local governments in warp the rules regarding speed cameras.

John O'Connor testified on Behalf of Optotraffic that photos cannot be used to show speed: "We do not use photos that are taken at two independent times to estimate speed.  Why? Because it's inaccurate. You can't do it." and "The photo is actually just secondary evidence that the vehicle was there and it was in motion, that it was there at the time of the occurrence."  [ O'Connor has identified himself as "Director of the Law Institute of Maryland" in his linkedin page...  an organization which we could find no information for online other than a domain name registration which was opened on September 2011 and which recently expired.  He lists himself as formerly the "Program Manager Automated Speed Enforcement Program Seat Pleasant Police Department", a town whose speed cameras are run by Optotraffic.  That linkedin page also references the Optotraffic website (snapshot from 9/21/2012).  O'Connor reportedly gave similar testimony to this effect on Optotraffic's behalf at numerous hearings.]

This testimony seems to conflict with Optotraffic's own technical document, which states that their equipment is supposed to be able to verify speed: 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”. 

Standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA)  for 'across the road' police radar standards seem to confirm that images can, and should, be used to verify speed:
"2.18.2 Unattended Operation. If the ATR device is to be considered for unattended operation, the manufacturer shall provide a secondary method for verifying that the evidential recorded image properly identifies the target vehicle and reflects this vehicle’s true speed, as described in §5.18.2. This may be accomplished by means of a second, appropriately delayed image showing the target vehicle crossing a specified reference line."
    and
"5.17.2 Unattended Operation. Repeat the tests of §5.17.1.1, supplemented by the manufacturer’s secondary method for proving that the evidential image correctly identifies the offending vehicle and its speed.
"
Both DC and Montgomery County place white stripes on the road at camera sites to facilitate measuring 'the progression' of the vehicle, in order to conform to the NHTSA standard and (as Montgomery County stated) comply with state the law.

Mr Foreman's attorney argued that if images captures by Optotraffic cameras were not evidence of speed, then citations do not meet the statutory requirement of the law.  Transportation article 21-809 states that citations contain "a signed statement by a duly authorized law enforcement officer employed by or under contract with an agency that, based on inspection of recorded images, the motor vehicle was being operated in violation of this subtitle.".

We previously noted how there were 'tick marks' on the road at the Forest Heights speed camera site in question at one point, but that these markings were blotted out after people started reporting errors.  Optotraffic also removed the explicit "Delta Time: Time b/t photos" from their citations, which had been listed on photos prior to people reporting errors.   No explanation for that change to the timestamps was ever given publicly, nor did any of the several jurisdictions we inquired of provide any response as to why that was done.

Mr Foreman's case was dismissed.   Judge Northrop wrote: "The appeals were dismissed in favor of the Defendant Eastover Auto Supply", ordering all court costs to be refunded: READ COURT ORDER.  It was a long painful route to avoiding the 'admission of speeding' which the state high court has said paying a citation is.

But it was far from perfect justice.  Even though the Circuit court ordered the district court to refund all court costs which he had been required to pay after the initial district court hearing, Foreman reports that of 9/12/12 he still has received not refund for the district court fees.  "A Circuit Judge files an order to District Court and it is ignored.  Can you imagine if the roles were reversed an I ignored his order? I would have penalties, interest and my registration would be suspended.", wrote Foreman.

To this day Optotraffic refuses to acknowledge that speed measurement errors have ever taken place, despite huge amounts of evidence that they have.  Optotraffic and Forest Heights are happily continuing to issue more citations with the same equipment, using an inspection process which likely does not include any secondary verification of speed.  Or perhaps which does, but which they cannot admit to because that would confirm the assertions of those who have claimed errors.  And of course Optotraffic, Forest Heights, College Park and Prince George's County already got their little PR kick out of the district court decision at the critical time when Optotraffi's cameras were coming under scrutiny, which is exactly what they needed to justify the county choosing a contractor who was a contributor to the county executive's campaign fund.

However in the absence of a legislative solution, which has so far been casually brushed aside by state lawmakers, defendants who receive erroneous citations face a roll of the dice in district court.  The cameras may have collected evidence which has sufficient time stamp detail to prove speed, they may not.  They may have a judge who is willing to consider 'secondary evidence' of speed and give the defendant the rightful benefit of the doubt, or they may simply hand out assembly line verdicts. That is the state of justice for Motorists in Maryland.

Forest Heights reported collecting a net $2.6million worth of speed camera fines in FY2011(divided between the town, Optotraffic, and the State of Maryland), which compares to the town's total revenue of $2.19 million from all other sources combined.... revenue which will likely be used to "buy the gun they will point to your head" in order to extract more money from the public in the future.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Opinion: Don't Buy From Xerox

ACS State and Local Solutions has been the speed camera contractor for Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Bowie, Frederick City, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Takoma Park, the SHA's 'SafeZones" program, as well as in DC and other locations outside of Maryland. In 2009, ACS was bought out by Xerox Corporation, a well known company which produces a wide variety of commercial products for home and office use. 

Unfortunately, as the biggest speed camera contractor in the state, ACS bears some of the responsibility for the abuses and injustices we have documented on this website.  They have engaged in tactics such as Astroturfing in Baltimore County and in Howard County. Their cameras were involved in cases of mass false accusations in Baltimore City.  And of course the cameras they deploy are partially responsible for the creeping surveillance state and our loss of the right to face an accuser.

If you oppose automated enforcement then we believe you should not give them any of your money, by boycotting Xerox consumer and office products. These products include:
  • Printers (including the Workcentre, Phaser, ColorQube models)
  • Scanners (including DocuMate brand scanners)
  • Copiers
  • Fax machines
  • Office Products (printer paper, labels,  and toner cartridges)
  • Software Products
The next time you need printer paper or replacement printer cartridges, don't buy Xerox. The next time you want to buy a printer/scanner/copier/fax, don't buy Xerox. Just buy it from another company. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Don't Pay That Late Fee!

We previously reported that the Chief Judge of the District Court issued a decision that late fees imposed on Speed Camera, Red Light Camera, and Parking tickets violated a provision of the Maryland state constitution because they were not uniform across the state.  As such, the court was refusing to enforce late fees as of March of this year.

According to the Washington Examiner, Montgomery County and many other jurisdictions have since stopped charging late fees.  However some of the approximately 31 jurisdictions issuing photo tickets may still charging them.  So some motorists may still be getting scamera tickets with late fees attached.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Prince George's to Have Cameras Watching Cameras

WTOP Reports that Prince George's County plans to deploy cameras near its speed camera locations in order to monitor them for camera vandalism.

County Police say that there have been multiple instances of cameras being attacked.  They report instances of cameras being set on fire and shot.  In one case a camera was flipped over, leading police to believe multiple individuals must have been involved due to the large size of cameras used by the county.  In another instance one of the legs of a camera was cut off.

"It costs us $30,000 to $100,000 to replace a camera. That's a significant loss in the program. " stated Major Liberati, who leads the county's photo enforcement program.

Under the county's contract, the cameras are not owned by the county but are instead provided by private speed camera contractor Optotraffic, who builds, owns, maintains, repairs, and processes violations from the cameras, and mails the tickets.

"The roads are choked, there are lots of drivers on them. I think traffic itself is the cause of frustration (towards speed cameras)" said Liberati.
 
So in response, the county will now be deploying cameras to watch the cameras.  Unlike the speed cameras themselves which only record vehicles which are accused of speeding, the monitoring cameras will record video of anyone in the vicinity of the cameras 24/7.  One such monitoring camera has already been deployed, and the county hopes to add a dozen more.

"It's not worth going to jail over a $40 ticket or an arson or destruction of property charge," says Liberati.

Read complete article on WTOP

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Baltimore Earns Over $19million From Speed Cameras

The Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore City's Speed Camera Program raked in $19.2million in speed camera fines in the past Fiscal Year, a $2.5million increase over last year and $4million more than the city had predicted.

The city had originally budgeted to bring in $15million from the city's 83 speed cameras.  According to the Sun article, the amount of revenue to budget coming from speed camera, and how it would be allocated, had apparently been the topic of some debate, due to the fact that the revenue projections depended on hundreds of thousands of traffic violations which had not in fact taken place yet:
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young proposed an alternative spending plan that assumed $3.5 million more in funding from the cameras than the mayor's did. Young touted his plan as a way to keep recreation centers and fire companies from closing.
Rawlings-Blake, at the time, criticized Young's proposal as irresponsible. She said Montgomery County's experience with speed cameras shows that drivers stop speeding near cameras and that revenue therefore declines.
In a June letter to the council, Rawlings-Blake warned that "painful midyear budget cuts" could be necessary if Young's plan were approved and the increased speed camera revenue didn't come through.
Read Complete Article on the Baltimore Sun
$19.2million would represent approximately 480,000 citations.  The speed camera contractor (Xerox Corp, formerly ACS State and Local Solutions) receives a percentage cut of each ticket.

Of course as everyone knows speed cameras are about safety and not revenue.  Baltimore city designated vast new school zones when it began it's 'school zone' speed camera program, many of which are in locations that were never considered or marked as school zones previously... "for the children".  Their program has been so highly effective that it is even able to issue tickets to motorists who have been dead for years and to invisible cars.  The at least three separate instances where the city erroneously issued thousands of tickets from cameras configured to the wrong speed limit in 2012 and in 2010, had practically nothing to do with a financial incentive on the part of the city and their contractor to issue more citations.... we are very nearly almost sure of that.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lawsuit Accused DC Police of Stealing Phone, Destroying Photos

WTOP has reported that a man has filed suit against DC Police after officers allegedly seized a smartphone which he claimed he was using to photograph "police misconduct".

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Next Stop, Stop Sign Cameras

photo from TheNewspaper.com
The District of Columbia will be introducing a new type of automated enforcement for ticketing motorists who run stop signs, and one Maryland town is asking the Maryland Legislature to follow suit.

WTOP reports that 24 of the new cameras will "initially" start issuing tickets within the next few months, with citations costing $50.

DC already has cameras for speeding and red light running, including making rolling right turns on red, and has been making plans to use them for 'blocking the box' and 'failure to yield to pedestrians'.  They even have cameras attached to street sweepers enforcing parking violations for motorists who fail to move their cars during specified street sweeping hours.

It was recently reported that the Maryland town of Glen Echo has requested that the state legislature approve the use of stop sign cameras by the town.  The Town claimed that 81% of motorists were running a particular stop sign at Glen Echo park.  The criteria they used to get this statistic was not "stopping behind the white line and counting a full second".  This indicates that if stop sign cameras are deployed in Maryland as Glen Echo has requested, they would issue citations not only to people making 'rolling stops' at 1-2mph, but also to people who make full stops but slightly past the white line (which people often do so they can see into the intersection) and people who stop but for less than 1 second (which people often do because they have already confirmed there is no other vehicular or pedestrian traffic).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hyper-Sensitive Red Light Cams in Montgomery County?

Some of the brand new red light cameras in Rockville/Montgomery County have been observed "flashing" cars when there is no obvious red light running violations, far more frequently than was observed in the past. (see example below)


This has been observed on several cameras installed on Rockville Pike and all along Gude Drive, it is not a fluke.

We would like to hear from anyone who has received a citation from one of these new cameras.  We'd particularly like to hear from anyone who was ticketed in Maryland for "white line running" (making a full stop, but not behind the white line) as opposed to actual "red light running", or for making a right turn, or for infinitesimal times after the red.  Please email us at StopBigBrotherMD@gmail.com.

Update 8/27: Several motorists have confirmed that YES Rockville's cameras have in fact been issuing tickets to people making right turns.... and apparently in not insignificant numbers. If you have gotten such a ticket, please help us document it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Maryland High Court: The Crown Can Do No Wrong

The Maryland Court of Appeals has reached a decision in the case of Baker v Montgomery County, regarding Montgomery County's Contingent Fee contract (View Ruling).  The state high court ruled that state law does not permit a class action lawsuit against a speed camera program, but declined to rule on the main issue in dispute regarding whether or not the contractor "Operates" the cameras and as such violates the law. The verdict will likely block other class actions filed on any grounds, not merely suits filed on this particular issue.

StopBigBrotherMD.org has reported many times about the lawsuit, which has been ongoing since 2008.  Article 21-809(j) states "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  However Montgomery County, as well as the local jurisdictions Rockville and Gaithersburg, each signed contracts with speed camera vendor ACS State and Local Solutions (a division of Xerox Corporation) to pay a fee of $16.25 per ticket.  Attorney Timothy Leahy of the law firm Byrd and Byrd, LLC filed suit in 2008 against Montgomery County in the case(filed as 'Baker v Montgomery County Maryland'), alleging the contract violates that provision. The lower court ruled against the plaintiffs, and the appeal was eventually brought to the Court of Appeals.

The primary reason the Court of Appeals ruled that the case could not proceed is that the government had not authorized itself to be sued:  "Maryland Code, Transportation Article, § 21-809 does not provide an implied private cause of action to sue local governments that utilize speed monitoring systems."
They further explain: "A private cause of action in favor of a particular plaintiff or class of plaintiffs does not exist simply because a claim is framed that a statute was violated and a plaintiff or class of plaintiffs was harmed by it." and "the legislative history of § 21-809 does not reveal a legislative intent to create an implied private cause of action"

StopBigBrotherMD's opinion and translation of this is simple: The purpose of the court is to divine legislative intent. And in this case, the court has concluded that the legislature's intent was that once a speed camera program has your money, they never give it back.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Montgomery County Switching Camera Tech

A Fixed Poliscan unit
Montgomery County's Speed Camera Contractor has replaced much of the county's photo enforcement equipment under a contract mod signed last September, including both red light and speed cameras.

The contract mod, WHICH YOU CAN SEE HERE, specifies that the county will replace all current red light camera systems with new "RLCS-1" systems, and all existing speed cameras with the contractor's latest Gatsometer RS-GS11 and Vitronic Poliscan equipment.  The contract mod was signed with ACS State and Local Solutions (now a division of Xerox Corporation), covers the county's 40 red light camera sites, 60 fixed speed camera sites, 10 'portable speed camera units" (ie "trash cams") and 6 mobile speed camera units (camera vans).  It also called for the addition of 10 new portable speed camera systems, and 20 additional red light cameras in the first year.  There is an option in the second year of the mod to add another 20 red light cameras, another 10 portable speed cameras, and for possible additional units added in subsequent years.

You may have noticed we refrained from using the term "upgrade" to describe the new systems.... 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Riverdale Suspends Speed Camera WhistleBlower

Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer
The Town of Riverdale Park has allegedly retaliated against a police officer who revealed information about fraudulent citation review procedures in the Town of Riverdale Park.

On August 6 it was reported that Riverdale Park Corporal Clayton Alford had stepped forwards with evidence that civilians working for Riverdale Park had approved citations using the officer's ID, in violation of state law, and then the officer's signature was digitally imprinted on citations he had not reviewed or approved.  Alford's attorney has stated that he had stepped forwards to avoid the risk of being forced to perjure himself if called to testify in court.  Now, WTTG reports that the town has placed Corporal Alford on suspension the day after the complaint was filed, taking his badge and gun, and allegedly threatened to fire him if he did not keep quiet.

Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer and Police Captain Patrick Timmons refused to respond to questions by WTTG about the allegations, according to the report.

"Hopefully the political leaders of Riverdale Park are going to come to the conclusion that he is in fact the hero of the story and the villains will be dealt with," said Clayton's attorney Timothy Leahy.

The town of Brentwood had a similar situation in 2010 when over 3000 had been apparently approved under the authority of an officer who was on administrative leave.  However in that instance, the town voluntarily refunded the citations.  Riverdale has apparently chosen a different, more shameful approach: Silence the leak and keep the loot!

See full coverage on WTTG Fox 5 News
 
Update 08/10/12@8PM:
   Both WTOP and The Gazette now report that the town declined to provide comment on the case.

Update 6/12/2013: The court has dismissed the lawsuit against the town.  In their request for summary judgement, Riverdale Park DID NOT DISPUTE the factual basis of the claims that citations were approved by an officer who did not review or approve the tickets.  Rather, the court ruled that The People cannot file suit against a speed camera program FOR ANY REASON because the law does not explicitly authorize the government to be sued -- regardless of whether the town's activities were illegal.  READ COURT RULING
This is based on a prior court ruling filed on a different basis which drew the same conclusion, that speed camera programs are not subject to being sued under Maryland law REGARDLESS OF THE FACTUAL OR LEGAL BASIS FOR THE SUIT.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

DC Cop Pleads Guilty in Photo Radar Fraud

A DC police officer has plead guilty to falsifying calibration logs for the District's speed camera program.

Prosecutors said David Cephas, a 22 year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, falsified logs that certified the deployment times for district speed cameras.  According to one report, the defendant faked required hourly tests by first setting the device's internal clock back by one hour, then setting it forwards again and re-running the test, making it appear on the logs that the device had been checked at both times.

The district refunded $17,000 worth of fines for 200 photo radar tickets, and Cephas was required to pay the district $17,550 in restitution.

Full coverage on:
   WJLA
   Washington Examiner
   Washington Post

NOW if Maryland officials will only do something about the even worse case of speed camera citation fraud in Riverdale Park.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lawsuit Accuses Riverdale Park Speed Camera Program of Fraud

A lawsuit has been filed alleging that the Town of Riverdale Park committed fraud by permitted civilians to approve speed camera citations and then imprint the signature of a police officer who had not approved the citations.  A police officer has refused to participate in this and has stepped forwards with information about the town's actions.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2011, civilian employees logged into the system using Corporal Clayton Alford's ID and approved thousands of citations.  As a result, Corporal Alford's name, ID, and signature was imprinted on those citations, even during a period when he was on leave and not approving citations for several weeks.

Maryland transportation article 21-809 requires that all citations must contain "A signed statement by a duly authorized law enforcement officer employed by or under contract with an agency that, based on inspection of recorded images, the motor vehicle was being operated in violation of this subtitle". 

Correspondence cited in the lawsuit shows that speed camera contractor Optotraffic's liaison to the town, Angenette Criner, was copied in emails from civilians who had "cleared out approvals in the queue".  This indicates that Optotraffic was notified that civilians were logging in to the approval system.  Optotraffic provides the speed cameras and related services, including mailing citations and collecting fines for the town.