Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

DC Budgets to Increase Camera Revenues by $30million

DC Mayor Vincent Gray has unveiled a new budget which proposes to increase photo enforcement revenues by $30million to help close the city's looming budget gap, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The fines will be a part of a new "traffic calming initiative" which includes not just speed cameras, but also red light cameras which ticket motorists for coming to a full stop slightly past the white line, making right turns, "blocking the box".  The city also uses parking ticket cameras attached to street sweepers.

DC has frequently been criticized for using its photo enforcement program as a de-facto commuter tax, largely targeting Maryland and Virginia residents.  A recent proposal to lower most speed limits in the city to 15mph was abandoned after it was shouted down by the press. earned approximately $50million in speed and red light camera tickets in FY11 alone.

Mayor Gray's administration has recently been the target of a federal investigation into improper campaign financing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

House Committee Given Testimony on Camera Errors, Due Process Violations: Was Anybody Listening?

A 40,000lb RV cited by Forest Heights while towing a car

On Friday March 9 the House Environmental Matters committee heard testimony on several speed camera bills.  The bills included House Bill 1044 (which StopBigBrotherMD.org supports), correcting several problems pertaining to testing requirements for speed cameras and due process issues which have been observed with existing speed camera programs.  Also included were House Bill 944(aka SB486), which removes the requirement that police review citations and allows private contractors to have the final say in who receives citations (something which StopBigBrotherMD.org strongly opposes), removing a critical safeguard promised to the public when statewide speed cameras were implemented.

Speakers in favor of House Bill 1044 included John Townsend from AAA, as well as a representative from the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which last year wrote a report about the privatization of law enforcement, cautioning on various types of conflicts of interest.  Neither AAA nor PIRG oppose speed cameras if they are not used as 'cash cows'.    PIRG argued that the legislation added 'necessary public interest protections'.  AAA argued that the legislation was necessary 'to protect the integrity of the program', and that what they have observed taking in courtrooms 'was undermining public confidence'.

Four citizens who had received erroneous citations from Optotraffic speed cameras appeared.  One, Will Foreman, has been a frequent critic of the accuracy of Optotraffic cameras used by Forest Heights.  However at this hearing three other recipients of erroneous tickets, who have no affiliation with Eastover Auto, also presented testimony.  This included the owner of another business, who claimed that a car owned by him had been wrongly cited by Forest Heights at 75mph which he stated was not possible under the circumstances.  Another ticket recipient, Earl Lomax, a retired police officer, had been cited for speeding by Forest Heights in his 40,000 pound RV only a short distance after he had turned onto MD210, traveling uphill, while towing a car behind it.  Lomax had contested his citation, presenting photos of the vehicle and of the area claiming that it would have been physically impossible to reach the recorded speed.  However it took Mr. Lomax a year to receive his court hearing, and when he got there he was found him guilty, ruling that he could not contest the recorded speed, and was forced to pay a fine plus court costs.  Unfortunately, some courts have denied that any defense against the recorded speed is allowable.  HB1044 amends the law to require that a defendant be permitted to use citation images in defense of a violation.

The editor of this StopBigBrotherMD.org also spoke and presented 30 pages of written testimony on HB1044, documenting numerous other examples of speed measurement errors.  Included in his written testimony were references to the "false triggers" and erroneous speed measurements which the town of Cheverly had reported before their contract with Optotraffic was terminated.  Also included were examples of errors not previously disclosed publicly.  One example was an email obtained from the City of New Carrollton sent to their contractor, Optotraffic, which showed that the city of New Carrollton was aware of similar cases in 2010. Included in the email was an image of a 26" rental truck recorded at 68mph which was apparently NOT traveling that speed, as the police had labeled it a "False Camera Trigger". Optotraffic has in the past publicly claimed that nobody has ever shown them proof of errors.
New Carrollton "False Trigger", click for a larger view

State Senate Votes To Keep Workerless Workzone Cameras

After a state senate committee rejected a bill which would have required that "workzone speed monitoring systems" only be used when at least one worker is present, Senator Alan Kittleman brought the issue to the floor by offering an amendment to a separate piece of legislation (Senate Bill 486 -- which allows private contractors rather than police to approve speed camera tickets).  The amendment banning workerless workzone cameras failed to pass by one vote.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

We Can Hardly Believe What They Are Doing Now

FIRST, state lawmakers introduced legislation which would allow private contractors, rather than police, to approve speed camera citation. But now legislation is being considered which would allow an attorney, rather than a judge to hear to hear "nonincarcerable violations of the Maryland Vehicle Law", which would include speed and red light camera cases.

The legislation, House Bill 1030, was sponsored by State Delegate Tiffany Alston(Prince George's County) would require judges in Prince George's County to appoint an attorney called a "Master", to hear cases and decide guilt or innocence  The bill further states "IMPLEMENTATION OF THIS SECTION MAY BE FUNDED BY REVENUES RAISED IN PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY FROM SPEED MONITORING SYSTEMS", meaning that the salary of such individuals could be paid out of speed camera revenues.  This would give the attorney a financial motive to find people contesting speed camera tickets guilty, or to not reduce fines if there were mitigating circumstances.

The fiscal policy notes for the legislation cite the increasing number of cases which Prince George's County has received from speed and red light camera programs as reason for the bill.

Read about it at TheNewsPaper.com

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Baltimore Issues Hundreds of Erroneous Citations

Baltimore City will be forced to refunds or void over a thousand speed camera tickets after WBFF Baltimore News revealed that the cameras had been configured to issue tickets for the wrong speed limit.

Two motorists who received citations from one camera located at 2800 S Hanover Street Northbound, Near the Harbor Street Bridget citing them for driving more than 12mph over the speed limit in a 30mph Zone.  While most motorists who received the citations paid them without question, these two realized the posed speed limit on Hanover Street was in fact 35mph, not 30mph, and in fact the tickets were in error.  One of the motorists took a video of the stretch of road, showing 35mph speed limit signs both before and after the speed camera location, not 30mph which the citations were based on.

Both motorists contacted WBFF news about their tickets.  After a reporter confronted the city with the errors, the city admitted that 998 motorists were wrongly cited


WBFF also REPORTED that a SECOND camera, located at 5400 The Alameda, was ALSO incorrectly configured to the wrong speed limit.  190 motorists were incorrectly tickets by that camera.

Baltimore has since agreed to issue refunds.

A representative of Baltimore City claimed that they have "three tiers of checks in place to prevent this from happening", and that errors are relatively rare.

The erroneous citations from these cameras had apparently slipped through the 'three tiers of checks' since January.

Baltimore City made a similar error in the past, where in 2010 a camera located at 2200 West Cold Spring Lane issued 932 tickets in error, after being set to enforce the wrong speed limit.  Baltimore recently was discovered to have issued a tickets to a motorist who had been deceased for years.  In another instance one motorst took seven months to clear a citation from his record which Baltimore City issued to the wrong car by mistake.  In a separate incident, Baltimore City was discovered to have issued 2000 red light camera citations which had been "signed" by a police officer who had been dead for months.

Baltimore City is one of the jurisdictions who testified in favor of legislation which would remove the requirement that speed camera citations be reviewed by police, allowing private contractors to "sign off" on them instead.  Baltimore is also seeking legislation which would authorize an entirely new type of photo enforcement system, which would issue fines of up to $500 to large vehicles.  Both bills were approved by a legislative committee last week and are expected to be voted on in state senate soon.

On the other hand, another bill would require cameras to meet national standards for accuracy and certification instead, is scheduled to be heard by a house committee this week.  StopBigBrotherMD had previously learned that as of early 2010 some cameras in Baltimore did not meet a requirement that they be "certified" by an "independent calibration laboratory", and were instead merely "certified" by the manufacturer of the device.  The proposed bill, which some municipalities who use inaccurate cameras are likely to oppose, would ban this.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Delegate Wants to Exempt Cops from Camera Tickets

Delegate Frank Conaway (D, Baltimore City) has sponsored two bills which if passed would exempt "emergency vehicles" (House Bill 848) and law enforcement vehicles (House Bill 857) from receiving either speed or red light camera citations, making no distinction as to whether the vehicles were responding to calls or emergencies.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Legislative Committees Approve of Removing Police Oversight, Moving Cameras For Revenue Purposes

The powers that be in Annapolis sick of people whining about speed camera tickets and listening to stories about people getting bogus tickets, and have decided to respond by lifting any pretext that speed cameras are about anything but making money.  So this week two state legislative committees approved a bill which removes the requirement that police review citations before they are issued, while voting down a second bill which would have banned speed cameras from being moved specifically for the purpose of increasing revenue.