Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Baltimore To Throw Out 6000 Tickets, City Says They Have "No Evidence"

The Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore City will be voiding 6000 speed and red light camera citations which were pending court hearings because their former speed camera contractor, Xerox Corporation, has stopped showing up for court hearings.  The city claims they have no evidence with which to prosecute the cases.

According to the Sun's report a district court judge dismissed all citations presented at a recent court hearing after the city stated they had no evidence to prosecute the cases, eliciting smiles from the defendants.

Baltimore ended their contract with Xerox Corporation late last year after signing a new contract with Brekford Corp.  The change occurred at a time when the city and Xerox had come under intense fire after revelations that some of their speed cameras had been systematically issuing erroneous tickets.

Baltimore's program was recently shut down after a discovery that one of its new cameras provided by Brekford had also issued erroneous tickets, after being programmed to enforce a 25mph speed limit on a stretch of road posted at 30mph.  The city has not announced a date when the program would resume.

The Sun has also reported that Baltimore City is withholding $2million in payments to Xerox Corp:
Because of a "number of disagreements," City Solicitor George Nilson said, "the city held back on making those payments" at least temporarily. "Prudent business people don't automatically or necessarily send out final payments when there are pending issues needing to be resolved," he said

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Repeal Amendment Blocked in House

As Maryland State lawmakers were busy de-clawing proposed speed camera reform legislation, bills which would have repealed Maryland's speed camera law had been submitted to both the House and Senate were blocked by the Judicial Proceedings and Environmental Matters committees and were not permitted to come to a vote on the floor.  Not to be deterred so easily, Delegate Michael Smigiel ((R, Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) brought the issue to a vote in the House by proposing an amendment to the house version of a "speed camera reform bill".  Delegate Smigiel's amendment would have changed the bill to repeal the state law which authorizes speed cameras.

Of course, the House voted the amendment down.   

The House reform bill replaced another reform bill which had passed the Senate with only a few days left in the annual session and added provisions which would have "grandfathered in" existing bounty system contracts.  Despite much bluster brought about by discoveries of extensive problems in the speed camera programs of Baltimore City and the SHA, the legislature ended without passing any legislation pertaining to speed cameras whatsoever.

House Delegates Voting AGAINST Speed Camera Repeal Amendment
Speaker Busch DeBoy Holmes Miller, A. Stein
Anderson Dumais Howard Mitchell Stukes
Arora Feldman Hubbard Mizeur Summers
Barkley Frick Hucker Morhaim Swain
Barnes Frush Ivey Murphy Tarrant
Barve Gaines Jameson Nathan-Pulliam Turner, F.
Beidle Gilchrist Kaiser Niemann Turner, V.
Bobo Glenn Kelly, A. Pena-Melnyk Valderrama
Branch Griffith Kramer Pendergrass Valentino-Smith
Braveboy Gutierrez Lafferty Proctor Vallario
Cane Guzzone Lee Reznik Vaughn
Carr Hammen Love Robinson, B. Waldstreicher
Clippinger Harper Luedtke Robinson, S. Washington, A.
Conaway Haynes Malone Rosenberg Washington, M.
Conway Healey McHale Rudolph Wilson
Cullison Hixson McIntosh Simmons Zucker

House Delegates Voting FOR Speed Camera Repeal Amendment
Afzali Fisher James Miller, W. Schuh
Aumann Frank Kach Minnick Schulz
Bates George Kelly, K. Myers Smigiel
Beitzel Glass Kipke Norman Sophocleus
Boteler Haddaway-Riccio Krebs O'Donnell Stifler
Cluster Hershey McComas Oaks Stocksdale
Costa Hogan McConkey Olszewski Szeliga
Dwyer Hough McDermott Otto Vitale
Eckardt Impallaria McDonough Parrott Walker
Elliott Jacobs McMillan Ready Wood

Not Voting/Absent:
Bohanan Cardin Jones Serafini Weir
Burns Carter
Bromwell Clagett Donoghue

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Baltimore Camera Program Shut Down After New Errors

The City of Baltimore has temporarily shut down its speed and red light camera programs after erroneous citations were reported by one of its newly installed speed cameras.

The Baltimore Sun has reported that a recently installed camera located on the 3900 block of The Alameda had incorrectly cited drivers for speeding in a 25 mph zone when in fact the posted speed limit in that location is 30mph. After city officials received inquiries from The Sun, they stated that the city would be temporarily halting all speed and red-light camera tickets "due to complications that arose during the transition to our new vendor."

One motorist had received two such erroneous citations four days apart, clearly showing the camera had been incorrectly configured for some time.  The Sun reports that 590 of the erroneous citations had been wrongly issued by this camera before anyone noticed.


Baltimore City had just signed a new contract with speed camera contractor Brekford Corp, which pays the company a fee for each citation issued (a type of arrangement which Governor O'Malley stated last year violates the intent of state law).  Baltimore also just agreed to pay Brekford over $2.2 million to replace faulty speed cameras previously run by speed camera Xerox Corp, after those cameras were found to have been systematically issuing erroneous citations due to inaccurate speed readings, which even included giving tickets to motionless vehicles.

The new errors were discovered only days after the General Assembly failed to pass legislation reforming the state's speed camera law.  A reform bill which had already been substantially weakened was unable to come to a vote in the Senate on the final day of the session after being completely rewritten by a House committee days earlier.  Among the watered down bill's provisions was a "ban" on per ticket contracts, which included a clause that would have grandfathered in existing "bounty system" contracts including Baltimore's contract with Brekford Corp, and provided a new loophole which would have allowed other types of contracts paying by ticket volume to continue.  Provisions intended to help ensure the accuracy and verifiability of equipment had already been stripped from the bill after local governments intensely lobbied at taxpayer expense to have these provisions removed.

This is not the first time Baltimore City speed cameras were found to be configured to the wrong speed limit.  Three similar incidents were discovered by WBFF news in 2010 and in 2012, resulting in thousands of erroneous tickets.

Additional Coverage:
CBS Baltimore
Fox Baltimore

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Session Ends Without Passing Camera Reform

Lawmakers argued until late into the night over the wording of speed camera reform bills, but the session ended without coming to a final a vote.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

SHA, Rockville Cameras Certified by Company Which Approved Faulty Baltimore Cameras

We previously reported how speed cameras which systematically issued erroneous citations in Baltimore City had passed all of it's calibration tests.  It turns out, the same company which "certified" the faulty hardware, which falsely accused trucks of traveling at twice their actual speed and  even issued citations to motionless cars, also certifies equipment used by the SHA, Baltimore County, and the City of Rockville, and other jurisdictions in the state.

Below is one of the certificates for a Mesa Engineering G1-ATR, issued by MRA Digital. 

This camera was formerly located at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane East Bound, which Baltimore City and Xerox Corp has admitted was responsible for issuing hundreds of erroneous citations, with more than one out of every 20 citations turning out to be due to an error.  We also obtained the daily setup logs for the camera, showing that the device passed all of its daily self tests as well.  The certificate was issued by MRA Digital, and was signed by Heinz Stubblefeld.

Below is another certificate for a different speed camera of the same make and model:
As you can see it is issued by the same company and the same individual.  However this camera was not located in the City of Baltimore, but rather in the City of Rockville.  This same type of camera is currently being used in Rockville in at least five locations (2100 Bock Baltimore Rd s/b, 2200 Block Wootton Pkwy n/b, 2200 Block Wootton Pkwy s/b, 500 Block W. Montgomery Ave e/b, and the 400 Block W. Montgomery Ave w/b).

Baltimore County also uses this model of camera, the Mesa Engineering G1-ATR, provided to them by the same contractor.

Below is a certificate from one of the SHA's cameras, which are now posted to the SHA website. 
While the camera is of a different make and model, the device was apparently certified by the same company and the certificate is signed off by the same person who approved the faulty cameras from Baltimore City.

These two certificates also bear another similarity: neither device was actually tested for its ability to measure SPEED.  The "specification" for the Baltimore and Rockville cameras merely tested the frequency of the device.  The specification for the SHA device is to test its "alignment", "low voltage monitoring", internal timing, and its ability to measure *distance* within about 1 foot.  But neither one involved an actual speed measurement on an actual moving vehicle.  In addition, neither type of device was certified to meet the NHTSA standards for radar or LIDAR.  And neither type of device is on the IACP(International Association of Chiefs of Police) list of conforming law enforcement products.

As a side note.... what do you suppose those little scientific-looking graphs at the tops of the certificates indicate?
This is part of the test results right?  Nope.  It's a stock image taken from Wikimedia commons with no actual meaning whatsoever.  Basically these documents are something that would rightly be used to "certify" a Matel toy, not for proving the accuracy of a device under real world conditions to the level of reliability needed when taking thousands of measurements against passing vehicles every day.

The SHA has stated in a "fact sheet" distributed to state legislators that "The best way to ensure the systems are in working order and to ensure public confidence in their accuracy is to demonstrate that the cameras are always calibrated. If the cameras are calibrated appropriately, they will generate accurate citations. MDOT can state that every camera deployed in the SafeZones program has remained calibrated and has been verified to be accurate."

However this statement is obviously FALSE.  The faulty cameras in Baltimore City passed all their tests and still produced errors.  The SHA's cameras were procured and maintained by the same contractor (ACS/Xerox Corp) and certified by the same calibration lab (MRA Digital).  The fact that the SHA has certificates for their devices does not prove they are accurate, it merely proves their paperwork is in order.

The SHA's assertion is that their equipment is incapable of error, and so a means to verify speed is not necessary.  At one point Baltimore would have made this exact same claim.  The Baltimore Sun did an intensive investigation into the accuracy of Baltimore City's cameras, using the time stamped images and videos to prove a pattern of errors, and eventually the city and Xerox Corp were forced to admit the systematic errors.

Such an investigation would be impossible with the SHA's cameras, and many other speed cameras in the state, since image time stamps from those citations are rounded off to the second and do not give any indication of the real time interval between frames.  The SHA hardware was also faulted in an audit of the SafeZones program, which found that it did not meet all standards which had been established for testing, certification, and procurement.

The state legislature is in the process of passing a "reform" bill which ignores all the calls to require secondary evidence of speed, and which does absolutely nothing to tighten the standards to which speed cameras are tested.  The errors in Baltimore City were the reason reform legislation was being considered in the first place.  Yet the legislature will now tell the public they have reformed the system without actually having done anything to correct this very issue.

By failing to require speed cameras to provide secondary evidence OF SPEED, the Maryland legislature is participating in a cover up of future speed camera errors.  By also failing to require devices be certified to a nationally accepted standard set by the NHTSA, they are taking the position that it is OK for speed cameras to be inaccurate so long as it is deliberately made impossible to prove it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

SHA "Fact Sheet" Rebuttal

The SHA has been circulating a "fact sheet" among lawmakers in the General Assembly (which you can read here) as their argument as to why the state's speed camera law should not be amended to require "secondary evidence of speed" from speed camera images.  This document was so pathetic it is utterly amazing that anyone was persuaded by it.  However many lawmakers have bought into this deception.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance now offers our point-by-point rebuttal of the SHA Fact Sheet.

House Committee Grandfathers In Bounty System Contracts, Rejects Speed Verification

With just five days left in this year's legislative session, the House Environmental Matters Committee has approved a speed camera "reform" bill which grandfathers in existing per-ticket contingent fee speed camera contracts for more than a year.  The Environmental Matters committee has blocked other speed camera reform bills which would have required that citations include a means of verifying recorded speeds after the fact, and also voted down a measure which would have repealed speed cameras.