Sunday, January 27, 2013

Red Light Citations With False Signatures Not Voided

In February 2011, WBAL TV reported that a deceased police officer "signed" over 2000 red light camera tickets issued by the city of Baltimore.  The signatures on the citations were clearly false, since it would have been physically impossible for this officer to have signed the citations.  Indeed, had an ordinary citizen signed the name of a police officer on an official document, it would be considered forgery, which would be illegal even if there were no requirement in the law that red light camera tickets be signed.   However an email released by the City shows that as of August 24, 2012 -- 18 months after the incident was publicized  -- Baltimore City had not chosen to make the situation right by voiding the falsified citations.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Delegates Call For Speed Camera Repeal

Legislation has been submitted to the House of Delegates to repeal authorization for the use of speed cameras in Maryland.   Delegate Michael Smigiel (R, Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) has sponsored House Bill 251, along with co-sponsors William Frank, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Stephen S. Hershey, Jay Jacobs, Susan Krebs, Warren Miller, Wayne Norman, Anthony O'Donnell, Nathaniel Oaks, Neil Parrott, Justin Ready, and Steven Schuh.

Read the Bill Text  and Legislative Summary for HB251.

The bill would repeal "the authority of counties and municipalities in the State 4 to use speed monitoring systems in the State 4 to use speed monitoring systems" and also the SHA's freeway workzone speed camera program (which currently operates "regardless of whether workers are present") by completely striking transportation articles 21-809 and 21-810 from the books.

Monday, January 21, 2013

First Speed Camera Reform Legislation Takes Shape

After many promises by state lawmakers to correct the gaping flaws in state's speed camera law which were laid bare by Baltimore City's buggy speed camera program, the first two speed camera reform bills have now been submitted to the General Assembly.

The first bill, Senate Bill 207, has been sponsored by Senators James Brochin(D, Baltimore County), Katherine Klausmeier(D, Baltimore County), Anthony Muse(D, Prince George's County), Douglas Peters(D, Prince George's), and Bobby Zirkin(D, Baltimore County).

SB207 contains several important provisions.  One, it would require that speed camera citation images "provide sufficient information to allow for the calculation of the speed of the motor vehicle during the interval between the two time-stamped images".  At various times defendants have been able to use time-stamped images to exonerate themselves of speeding.  However, despite such extensive evidence, speed camera contractors have often denied that citation images can be used to verify the recorded speed. Moreover, in many cases the speed camera contractors have made this a reality, by only providing images with time-stamps accurate to 1 second, giving no indication of the actual time interval between frames which is a fraction of a second.  For example, the same type of camera which was found to have issued 5% of it's citations in error, using time-stamped images with 3 decimal places as proof, is also used in other jurisdictions but with only 1 second precision -- the devices are all clearly CAPABLE of providing 3 decimal places of precision but the local governments have refused to provide this information to ticket recipients... even some motorists who specifically requested that information under the Maryland Public Information Act.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Defective Baltimore Cameras Passed All Calibration Tests, But Logs Missing

Inaccurate Cameras Passed Certification Standards
Speed Camera Calibration records requested from the City of Baltimore showed that cameras admitted by the city's former contractor to have issued many tickets with faulty speed readings had passed their annual calibration tests with flying colors.  However the city was unable to produce log showing that they had performed legally required daily tests on the machines for all days.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Let the People Decide

Maryland's legislative session is beginning and many legislators are batting around ideas for speed camera related legislation, many of which are being drawn up to address complaints raised after Baltimore City's former speed camera contractor Xerox Corp was forced to admit that some of their cameras were routinely issuing citations with erroneous speed readings, including trucks cited for traveling twice their actual speed and a speeding ticket issued to a car that was not even moving.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Some Local Governments Flout State Sunshine Law

Much of the information we publish on this website comes from public records obtained through the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA, or the equivalent of a FOIA at the national level).  For example, those of you have been paying attention already know that Baltimore and their vendor recently were forced to make a stunning admission that many citations issued by some of their speed cameras were errors.  This was largely brought about by documents and information obtained by the press, by, and by supporters of our site.  Had it not been for access to those records, much of what is now known about Baltimore's problems would still be a secret.

Sadly, this often places us in a position of having to "look where the light is better", limiting our reporting to those jurisdictions which actually comply with Maryland's sunshine laws because it is impossible to get information out of some other jurisdictions.  Unfortunately in many cases what we have typically seen is at best minimal, grudging compliance with the MPIA, and at worst some jurisdictions have refused to provide any records whatsoever.

To be blunt WE ARE SICK OF IT.  So we would now like to spend some time talking about those local governments which apparently have even more to hide than those who have provided records.

We will start with The Town of Brentwood.  In 2010 the Washington Examiner reported that Brentwood's speed camera contractor was investigating possible errors by its cameras in Brentwood issued to buses.  And we also became aware that speed limit signs on US 1 had been changed, extending a reduced speed zone to a location where cameras had been deployed.  StopBigbrotherMD filed a Maryland Public Information Act request with the town of Brentwood in October of 2010 via certified mail requesting specific documents pertaining to these two situations (read request and certified mail receipts).  The MPIA requires local governments to respond to requests and provide records (with the exception of a very limited number of exemptions) within 30 days.  No reply was ever received by the town, despite several attempts by us to follow up by email (see correspondence).  After more than a year, we had still received no response whatsoever.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ending Contingent Fee Contracts Back On the Table, but Local Governments Resist

Despite a provision of state law which was intended to ban per-ticket bounties to speed camera contractors, most local speed camera programs in the state are currently paying their contractors a cut of each ticket.  However after a series of debacles by Baltimore City's speed camera program including a large number of tickets issued to innocent motorists, some state lawmakers are now questioning the practice.  State Senator Brian Frosh from Montgomery County has joined those objecting to the practice, by stating that the bounties were intended to be banned by the law and that he would introduce a bill to stop the practice. (See coverage on WJLA and WTOP )

State law contains the wording "(2) 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 this restriction has for all intents and purposes been rendered null so long as speed camera programs know not to use the word "operate" to describe what the contractor does (or as we say "Don't use the O word!!"), regardless of the extend of the contractor's duties and how much control they have over the cameras (which in many cases is almost total control).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Scamera Review

2012 was a brutal year for motorist rights in the "Free State", featuring examples of courts stripping The People of due process, Camera vendors issuing tickets to innocent motorists, state Lawmakers ignoring their constituents, and expansion of cameras everywhere.  Here is a look back at some of the high and low points of last year: