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.

The calibration records for the camera at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane East Bound were first requested by a supporter of the website under the Maryland Public Information Act (see request letter).  This is a location where trucks were cited for traveling at twice their apparent speed based on evidence videos, where documents from the city showed they know of cases of errors since February 2012, and where the Baltimore Sun identified cases of  apparent errors.  The request included logs from this location for Feb 10, March 19, June 5, and Sept 4 2012, and also for the camera in the opposite direction for June 20 and Sept 3.

The city did provide some logs [see logs provided].  However the city's response to that request, dated Oct 31 2012, initially DENIED ACCESS TO THE ANNUAL CALIBRATION RECORDS, claiming that they were in the custody of the city's contractor (read city's response). This city also did not provide logs dated on 3 or the 4 dates requests.  The actual dates provided were Feb 9, Feb 13, Mar 14, Mar 21, June 5, June 6, Aug 31, and  Sept 4.  StopBigBrotherMD had already confirmed that some citations were issued at this location on all requested days because many of they either corresponded to the dates of apparently erroneous citations reported to us, or else the dates corresponded to citations in a database the city had published.

Maryland transportation article 21-809 states :
"(3) A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a DAILY set-up log for a speed monitoring system that:
(i) States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer-specified
self-test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;
(ii) SHALL BE KEPT ON FILE; and (iii) Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section."

It seemed to us that it is not legal for the city to issue citations without having a "daily" log on file for dates when citations are issued.

The claim that the city did not have annual calibration records in their custody is disturbing, because annual calibration certificates are similarly required to be "kept on file".

After being informed of this, sent the city a request by email on December 14, copying numerous members of the DOT, then followed up with a written request dated Dec 21.  On January 18, 2013 (which was more than 30  days after our emailed request), the city provided a new response which included the annual calibration certificates, and some of the requested daily logs.  The city still denied that they posessed a technical specification for the cameras[see city's reply], even though one would assume the city would have requested such information for their own purposes given that they supposedly underwent an extensive investigation into their camera program.

It's unclear to us at this time whether the reason is the city did not have, or did not wish to admit having, a technical spec for these cameras, given that they claimed to have conducted an extensive investigation into the errors by the cameras.

At any rate, the three cameras we requested records for passed all annual calibrations performed on them.
[Read Records provided
The annual calibration certificates show that the devices were of the model name 'G1-ATR' and were built by a company called "Mesa Engineering".  The certificates state that they were tested by a company called "MRA Digital" according to a "manufacturer specification".  This is despite the fact that one of the cameras was the one at 1300 west cold spring lane which Xerox has admitted was issuing erroneous tickets, one located 1700 cold spring lane had issued a ticket to a stationary car, and the third location on Greenspring Ave was one where errors had been credibly reported to us.  Xerox has now admitted that for some of their cameras 1 out of every 20 citations was due to an error.

We note that under state law the devices are only required to meet a "manufacturer specification" without any requirement on what that specification would be.  In fact article 21-809 does not even contain the word "accuracy".  So if the "manufacturer specification" were that "the box is blue", it would be perfectly legal under the law which YOUR Maryland legislators wrote to use the device to accuse people of speeding so long as they can find someone to certify that the box is blue (see how they voted here).

In this case, the G1-ATR certificate states that the "Manufacturer specs" are that the transmitter frequency be "34.5GHz-34.7GHz", and much like the wording of state law, the word "accuracy" is NOT a part of the spec nor does it appear ANYWHERE on the certificate.  And the devices did successfully pass this USELESS and MEANINGLESS standard which has NOTHING to do with the reliability of the devices' speed measurements.

Likewise every single daily log provided showed passing results.  This included the April 24th log for the camera at 1700 West Cold Spring lane, the same day it issued a speeding ticket to a motionless car.

However the city still failed to provide logs for 1300 West Cold Spring dated on 2/10, 3/19, or 9/3, or for 3800 Greenspring Ave on 9/10, all of which we had requested.  Instead  providing 'start' and 'end' deployment logs for the requested locations on 2/9 and 2/13; 3/14 and 3/21; and 8/31 and 9/4; and 9/6 and 9/11. 

This is not the first time we have observed a situation like this, not by a long shot.  We had previously noted in 2010 that the City of Gaithersburg had systematically failed to log tests as required every day, and that Montgomery County had been doing the same thing.  It would seem the same applied with Baltimore's cameras in 2010.  Not that it would have mattered much, because even cameras which Xerox admitted had a 5% rate of erroneous citations were in fact passing all their "manufacturer specified tests" with flying colors.  Ironically, Gaithersburg and Baltimore both have the same contractor Baltimore City was until recently using (Xerox Corp), and so their contractor should have been aware that their other clients had caught flack over this in the past.

The Mesa Engineering G1-ATR has been used in several other jurisdictions which have Xerox as their contractor, including Baltimore County.  A notable difference is that THOSE cameras do not produce evidence videos which are made available to the defendants, nor do their images contain timestamps to fractions of a second, and are thus the recorded evidence would be useless for proving errors of the sort discovered in Baltimore City.

Baltimore City has dumped speed camera contractor Xerox corp, and has recently started a new contract with Brekford Corp paying them a per ticket fee (despite a provision of the law which is supposed to ban contingent fee contracts).  Baltimore has stated that they will systematically replace all of the city's cameras with a new, unspecified, model of cameras.