Sunday, August 11, 2013

Morningside Admits Maintaining No Calibration Records, Doesn't Operate Own Cameras

The Attorney for the Town of Morningside has stated in response to a Public Information Act Request that Morningside is not the "operator" of the speed monitoring systems it runs and that it does not maintain any calibration records or daily setup logs for their cameras.

We filed a request for the following under Maryland Public Information Act(MPIA):
 1)    The annual calibration certificates for ALL speed monitoring systems used by Morningside during any portion of 2011, 2012, or 2013.  Please note that transportation article 21-809 requires annual calibration certificates for speed cameras to be “kept on file”.  I am seeking both current AND expired certificates.
2)    The daily setup/deployment logs for all speed cameras used in Morningside on Suitland Road (all locations and directions) on the following dates:
    a.    September 12, 2012
    b.    November 29, 2012
    c.    November 30, 2012
    d.    January 17, 2013
    e.    February 1, 2013
    f.    March 18, 2013
    g.    May 5, 2013
3)    All correspondence (including letters, emails, and memos) exchanged between the Morningside Police and its speed camera contractor (Brekford) dated from 11/1/2012 through present, pertaining to ‘administrative void’ of speed monitoring system citations or requesting that speed monitoring system citations be voided or refunded.
Letter from Morningside Attorney
The request was sent to Morningside by email on June 5, 2013, and again by certified mail which was received and signed for by the town on June 10.  The MPIA requires local governments to provide access to public records within 30 days except those falling within specific categories which are not disclosable.  On August 5, 60 days after we first sent our request, we received the following from the Town of Morningside's Attorney:
"Please be advised that the Town of Morningside is not the speed monitoring system operator as that term is defined in the Maryland Annotated Code, and, therefore, the Town of Morningside does not maintain the records and documents pursuant to your request."

In a separate email, the town attorney also stated that "we do not have any of the documents that you are requesting especially since the cameras are managed through an outside entity".

Maryland Law requires the following:
(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.
(4)    (i)   A speed monitoring system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory.
(ii)   The independent calibration laboratory shall issue a signed certificate of calibration after the annual calibration check that:
1.   Shall be kept on file; and
2.   Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section.
After the denial, we requested a copy of the town's speed camera contract, which Morningside did agree to provide.  The document stated that the city pays Brekford corporation a 40% cut of collected ticket revenues, plus a $1.50 fee per ticket for the first 25,000 tickets.

Maryland law contains the following provision: "(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 most jurisdictions do in fact issue contractors a cut of each ticket on the grounds that they claim the local government rather than the contractor "operates" the cameras.  (Also, in Maryland local governments apparently don't have to follow the requirements of the law if they don't want to, because the state did not choose to include an enforcement mechanism).

Morningside also claimed not to have any records or communications discussing the 'administrative void" of citations.  Morningside's speed camera program has voided some citations.  One motorist contacted us and provided a copy of a void notice he received after requesting a court hearing.
Administrative Void Letter
Another citation received by the same motorist was thrown out in court because of insufficient evidence.  The images of the citation dismissed in court is shown below.
Note the presence of a second vehicle traveling on the cross street, hidden in the first image but clearly shown in the second.  Having two vehicles in frame is generally not acceptable for a radar device because radar extends out in a 'cone' and cannot distinguish the speeds of two vehicles close together.  A composite image we created is shown below:
The vehicle was charged with traveling 50mph in a 30.  The time interval shown between frames was 0.5s.  For a vehicle to be traveling 50mph, it would need to have traveled 36.6 feet, well over 2 car lengths.

In the voided citation, the motorist was charged with traveling 49mph in a 30.
'Cross Traffic' can clearly be seen moving at freeway speeds on the I-495 overpass in the same image.   For a vehicle to be traveling 49mph, it would need to have traveled 35.9 feet in 0.5s.  You judge: did this vehicle travel a distance equal to well over 2 vehicle lengths?

Whether any of this poses a legal problem for Morningside has yet to be seen. Local speed camera programs in Maryland enjoy a form of government immunity from most liability, and the requirements of Maryland's speed camera law do not have any enforcement mechanism built in.  Thank the state lawmakers who created Maryland's speed camera law for that.  However recipients of tickets from Morningside may seriously want to consider contesting tickets to avoid 'admitting guilt' by paying.