Friday, May 31, 2013

Ohio Town Implodes Over Speed Camera Debacle

We previously reported how an Ohio court shut down a speed camera program run by Maryland based contractor Optotraffic in the town of Elmwood Place Ohio which created an enormous public outcry.  Now not only is the speed camera program out of commission, but 4 of the 6 members of the Elmwood Place council have recently resigned citing the speed camera situation as part of the reason, and leaving the town government in shambles and without even a quorum to pass legislation.

“This is one of the most stupid situations I’ve ever seen” stated one of the two remaining council members, who has stated he had considered resigning himself.

Ohio has no state regulations governing the use of speed cameras, and an Ohio judge shut down the revenue producing program calling it a 'game of three card monty' which subjected motorists who wanted to contest tickets to unfair administrative hearings with no courtroom due process.  Optotraffic and the town have fought back against the ruling and are attempting to have the judge disqualified from any future speed camera cases.

Elmwood place is facing a class action lawsuit over the cameras.  Among those who have successfully contested tickets from the cameras were 150 members of a local Vietnamese church, where they claim a 20% drop in attendance after their members started getting speeding tickets, some for traveling as slowly as 26mph.   “In Vietnam, we lived in a country controlled by Communism. You were so afraid of secret police in that way," stated Father Chau Pham who founded the church.

Maryland based Optotraffic still lists a 'Testimonial' from Elmwood Place town officials on their website, claiming the town as as yet another satisfied customer.

Optotraffic also runs several speed camera programs in Maryland, as well as in the Ohio cities of New Miami and Lucas.  Citizens in the town of Lucas have started a FaceBook Page calling for an end to the cameras there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DC, Brentwood Camera Sites Under Scrutiny

The Washington Post reports that a single speed camera has brought in $8.1million in only seven months.  The camera, located in a tunnel on K street at Washington Circle, has issued over 61,000 tickets enforcing the 25mph speed limit at this location.  The ten most profitable cameras in the city have brought in a combined $29.5million worth of tickets during the seven month period.  This puts the city's speed camera program, which is entirely about safety and not about revenue, on track for yet another record breaking year.

Meanwhile, WJLA and the Gazette have reported that some locals are objecting to a 'shameless' speed camera trap in the town of Brentwood.  Motorists have complained that the speed limit on 34th street in one direction is 25mph, but Brentwood has deployed a speed camera on the road traveling the opposite direction which is posted as 15mph.  Motorists complained that the sign was actually posted next to flashers and stated "Speed Limit 15 *when flashing*" implying to some motorists that the speed limit was 25mph at other times. 

A document posted on the Mount Rainier website in 2010 stated the following :"The Town of Brentwood has changed the posted speed limit on westbound 34th Street from 25 MPH down to 15 MPH. Brentwood's Chief of Police has informed me that the Town intends to install a speed camera just west of Upshur Street to enforce this new 15 MPH speed limit.  Brentwood’s action does not affect the speed limit on eastbound 34th Street in Mount Rainier - it remains 25 MPH."

We originally wrote back in 2010 how speed limit signs at another location in Brentwood on Rhode Island Avenue had been altered in 2010 prior to the town's deployment of speed cameras in that location.  According to documents we obtained from the SHA a reduced speed limit zone had been expanded and a newly minted school zone created at that site.  That camera location has since been removed after the school it was designated for was relocated elsewhere.

Brentwood has been obstructing two Maryland Public Information Act requests filed by the editor of this website for records pertaining to changes to speed limits and to alleged errors by the town's speed camera program.  Despite NUMEROUS attempts to obtain the records over more than two years, as of this date we have yet to receive one single public record from the Town of Brentwood responsive to our requests.  State law requires local governments to respond to Maryland Public Information Act requests within 30 days of receipt, something which the Town of Brentwood did not do.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Court Rules Government Can Profit From Forgery

A Maryland Circuit Court Judge had dismissed a class action suit against the Town of Riverdale Park which alleged that city officials and their contractor, Optotraffic, had forged the signatures of a police officer on thousands of speed camera citations which the officer never reviewed.  The court ruled that citizens have no right to file a class action suit against a speed camera program for any reason whatsoever, without taking into consideration the issue of whether forgery or fraud had taken place.

The case was filed last year by several ticket recipients after Riverdale Park Police officer Corporal Alford 'blew the whistle' on activities within the town's program, revealing that civilian employees of the town logged into the citation approval system under Alford's and approved citations, causing the signatures to be digitally imprinted with Corporal Alford's signature.

Documents presented in the court filing showed that speed camera Optotraffic had been informed that civilians were logging in to the citation approval system, even though under Maryland law only
police officers can approve citations.  Optotraffic nevertheless imprinted thousands of these citations with the signature of a police officer under a statement saying that he had reviewed the citations, even during a period of time when the officer was away on leave and did not look at any of the tickets.

Alford's attorney stated he revealed the information because he was concerned about being called to court and forced to lie under oath.

Riverdale Park officials have not denied the core allegation: that civilians approved thousands of citations which were imprinted with the digital signature of an officer who never approved or reviewed them.  The town's initial response was to temporarily suspend Corporal Alford, although he was later reinstated.   Riverdale Park officials has so far made no move to refund any citations nor have they given any explanation for the events in question.  Town officials refused to provide comment to reporters investigating the incidents at the time the case was filed.  Alford himself was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In their request for summary judgement, defendants Riverdale Park and Optotraffic presented no evidence or information disputing the assertion that civilians approved the tickets imprinted with Alford's name.  Instead, Prince George's County Circuit Court judge John P. Davey ruled that a previous court decision, Baker vs Montgomery County, means that speed camera ticket recipients cannot sue for recovery of damages FOR ANY REASON after fines have been paid -- even if the reason is based on an offense which might be a criminal violation of the law if it were committed by you or I.

The basis for the ruling was that the ONLY remedy for a speed camera ticket who does not wish to "admit guilt" allowed by state law is for the recipient to contest the ticket in district court individually.  This is despite the fact that it would be both economically and logistically impossible for thousands of ticket recipients to individually contest every ticket over the same systematic violation of the law by the government.  The judge rejected the argument that ticket recipients had no way of being aware that the signatures had been forged until long after the required timeline for contesting tickets had passed and had no reason at the time to suspect the signatures were fake... even if the reason for this might have been because Riverdale Park did not make this fact known to the public.  The court ruled that because the law authorizing speed cameras does not explicitly permit citizens to file a class action suit, plaintiffs have no standing to file a class action suit for any reason what so ever.

The new court decision makes it clear that the justice system in the state of Maryland has exercised their power to interpret "legislative intent", and have concluded that when it comes to speed cameras the legislature's intent was the Star Trek "Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #1"
Rule of Acquisition #1 "Once you have their money, You never give it back"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baltimore Speed Camera Committee Violated Open Meetings Act

The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board has issued a finding that the City of Baltimore's "speed camera task force" violated the "open meetings act" by failing to meet the terms of a state law which requires meetings of a "public body" to be open to the public.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brekford To Refund Camera Fines Over Hagerstown Calibrations

More bad news for speed camera contractor Brekford Corp, who will have to refund $54,000 worth of speed camera citations after it was discovered that the calibration of speed cameras they deployed in Hagerstown did not meet state requirements for calibration.

A provision of state law requires all speed cameras to be "certified" according to a manufacturer specification ever year by an "independent calibration laboratory".  We previously reported in March how annual calibration certificates which were obtained from the city of Hagerstown had in fact been issued by the manufacturer of the device, not an independent lab.  

Now, WJLA reports that a motorist challenging a speed camera citation issued on Northern Avenue in Hagerstown uncovered the fact that "Brekford, the contractor which runs the Hagerstown speed control system, had not independently calibrated the camera as is required every year."    The city has since revealed two other cameras with the same issue, and agreed to refund 808 of the citations.

The citations the city has agreed to refund constitute only a small percentage of the tickets issued by Hagerstwon without independent certifications.  Hagerstown speed cameras had issued approximately $1 million worth of tickets as of February 2013.  The same issue with Hagerstown's cameras was also noted in calibration certificates the Maryland Drivers Alliance obtained from the City of Laurel.

Brekford corp was recently the topic of bad news when a new set of errors were discovered in Brekford speed cameras deployed in Baltimore City, temporarily shutting down the city's speed camera program.  Brekford also was the contractor for Fairmount Heights, whose speed cameras were recently shut down after it was discovered that town failed to obtain required permits from the county before deploying them.  Brekford is also engaged in a lawsuit with speed camera supplier Sensys America over a contract dispute.
Brekford Corp is also the speed camera contractor for Salisbury, Greenbelt, Capitol Heights, Morningside, and Landover Hills.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance STRONGLY encourages everyone who contests a speed camera citations to file a Maryland Public Information Act request with the jurisdiction issuing the citation requesting the daily and annual calibration logs. You should do so more than 30 days in advance of your court hearing in order to give you time to examine the logs BEFORE your court hearing.  We have created a sample MPIA request letter which you can update and use.  We will be happy to help you analyze any records you receive.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Circuit Court Dismisses Speed Camera Ticket, Xerox Blocks Access to Evidence

A Montgomery County Circuit court judge found the defendant who appealed a Montgomery County speed camera ticket Not Guilty.

Mr Timothy Leahy, an attorney who works for the law firm Byrd and Byrd LLC, argued that a requirement of state law:
(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; 
Was not met, because the logs for the camera which issued this ticket did not contain a statement that "the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer-specified self-test".  As such the operator had not performed the legally required duty of affirming the proper operation of the equipment.

Mr Leahy had also attempted to Subpoena several other additional records pertaining to the speed camera from Xerox State and Local Solutions(XSLS), including records showing the "time between pictures".  Speed camera Xerox Corporation objected to the request for this information which could have been used to verify the recorded speed of the device, stating "XSLS further objecs to this request on the grounds that it seeks discovery of trade secrets and other proprietary information, of of which are matters privileged from disclosure.  XSLS is in possession of certain documents provided under contract with Vitronic.  These documents were provided pursuant to a Confidentiality Agreement and represents Vitronic's proprietary information.  XSLS has not received authorization to provide this information, so it will not be produced pursuant to this Subpoena".

Xerox objected to the the request for other records pertaining to as well, including:
  •  Documents showing how the calibration of the camera took place and how the self test results are to be read
  •  Daily logs (documents which are REQUIRED TO BE DISCLOSED AT ANY COURT HEARING under Maryland law)
  •  Manufacturer calibration records
  •  Repair records for the camera
  •  Officer certifications and training records for the camera
  •  Camera manuals/guidelines
Xerox argued, among other things, that these documents, which pertain precisely to how the devices function and are operated, were "neither relevant nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."  We note that daily logs, annual calibration logs, and speed camera operator training certificates are all specifically required to be disclosed under state law.

Xerox additionally argued that they should not be required to produce ANY records in response to a subpoena on several grounds, even though they are the ones who provide all of the equipment for Montgomery County's cameras and are substantially responsible for the handling of evidence in speed camera court cases.  You can read Xerox's complete response to the Subpoena here.

"Xerox refused, by filing an opposition to my subpoena for information, to produce the documents to show how long the time was between the photos of my car – so I could accurately calculate my speed from the distance traveled." wrote Mr Leahy.  "Remember the Baltimore system was shut down because Xerox had cameras that had images/videos that showed the cameras were wrong."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Baltimore Woman Gets Three Camera Tickets from DC Without Ever Driving There

According to a report on WJLA news, an 87 year old woman from Baltimore has received three speed camera tickets from DC in a 4 month period of time, without ever having actually driven in the District.  The citations depict three different vehicles, none of which belong to the woman, Miriam Singer.

“It’s not my car,” explained Miriam Singer. “It’s obvious that it isn't from the photograph.”

DC voided the citations after being contacted by ABC News 7 stating "This appears to have been human error". 

All DC citations are supposedly reviewed by humans before being issued.

DC's automated enforcement programs brought in approximately $95million in revenue last year.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Opinion: Lawmakers Not Off The Hook On Speed Camera Reform

Early this year there was much talk of reforming the State’s broken and corrupt speed camera law, prompted by proof that the City of Baltimore and Xerox Corp had been systematically issuing erroneous speed camera citations to innocent drivers, and by a scathing audit of the SHA which revealed deep flaws in the Maryland Safezones speed camera program.  Yet despite all this talk, and some very sound well thought out proposals such as a bill written by Senator Brochin and another bill by Delegate Jon Cardin, in the end the Maryland legislature utterly failed to address the problems.

How did this happen?  Some blame Senator Pipkin, for threatening to filibuster the last remnants of a speed camera bill on the final day of the session because the house had eliminated additional calibration requirements he had fought to be included in the Senate Bill, rather than accepting the “compromise”.  Certainly that's a very convenient approach for those who opposed reform, and who are now celebrating the fact that they got exactly what they wanted, but don't want to look overly joyous to the public over it.  But the reality is that REAL reform was already dead before that.  The leadership of the House and Senate had already collectively acted to remove the most vital provisions which would have actually made a difference in how speed camera programs are done. Supporters of motorist rights can hardly blame a long time advocate of drivers rights like Pipkin, a senator who has sponsored speed camera repeal legislation, for not wishing to accept a “reform” measure which did not adequately ensure that the integrity of the system would be substantially better or that promises which have been made to the public would actually begin to be kept.  

Senators Brochin and Carding both had sponsored bills which included the two key provisions of ending the “Bounty System” (ie paying contractors based on the number of tickets issued) and requiring that speed camera citations provide enough information to verify the speed of the vehicle after the fact (something which radar experts, college professors, members of the press, and motorist rights supporters have all called for).   These were simple, straight forward provisions with good intentions which would have allowed the cameras to continue operating if there was in fact a legitimate safety function for them, but would remove two of the biggest complaints people have about the cameras: namely that contractors have a profit motive to issue more tickets (in violation of the intent of an existing provision of the law according even to Governor O’Malley) and the inability to for defendants to contest the recorded speed in the case of speed measurement errors.

Yet local governments and the SHA swarmed to block these two provisions.  They were worried that ending the bounty system would cut into the revenue potential of these programs.  And they were TERRIFIED that if they were required to produce evidence of speed, then in fact people might actually discover errors of the same sort which Baltimore did.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fairmount Heights Failed To Obtain Speed Camera Permits

WJLA reports that Prince George's County is telling the small town of Fairmount Heights that they need to shut down their speed cameras after it was discovered that the city failed to obtain proper permits for the cameras on a county road before deploying them.  Motorists have complained that the town failed to post required notices and signage or to obtain permits showing the cameras were withing a legally designated school zone.

Motorists have complained that the city failed to provide public notice before two cameras were placed at 5400 Addison rd and 61rst Ave at Sheriff road, and that there are no "photo enforced" signs disclosing the presence of the cameras, and that these are required by state law.  It's unclear whether the two locations are within 1/2 mile of a school (the maximum distance a school zone can be designated from a school), but no public schools are located on Sheriff road or Addison road in the immediate vicinity of the cameras.

Attorney Donney Knepper stated to WJLA that he believed this provides a basis to contest tickets already issued:  "The citizens of the county were not put on proper notice, and that should render any ticket that was issued from one of those machines null and void. And anybody who received such a ticket should challenge it in court, and that violation and fine should be vacated."

However ultimately it would be up to a judge will need to determine whether the existing tickets are enforceable.

A representative of AAA ( an insurance company which has lobbied the Maryland legislature in favor of speed cameras in 2009 and 2013, but which often speaks publicly about speed cameras for PR purposes ) called the cameras a "rogue program" and stated "It's nothing more than municipal greed".

Fairmount Heights signed a five year contract with Brekford Corp to provide speed camera services in 2011