Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baltimore City Still Uncertain of Camera Restart Date Due to Accuracy Concerns

The Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore City is still unable to give a restart date for its speed and red light camera programs, which were shut down six months ago over reports of systematic erroneous citations.
"If we don't have people that can do the job correctly, then we have to find someone who can," said City Councilman Brandon Scott. "This is something that needs to be handled posthaste. It's bad business for us to let the issue hang out there this long." 
Tests have shown that the system sometimes produces inaccurate speed readings, makes address errors and provides incorrect information on how to pay a citation, city officials said. 
"We want to make sure when they go back online, they go back online with accuracy, efficiency and consistency," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday. "The current vendor is not there yet."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Baltimore County Calibrations Lapsed

The Baltimore Sun reports that twelve Baltimore County Speed cameras  were secretly shut down in February-March of this year, and more than 1467 citations voided, after the annual calibrations for the devices were allowed to lapse by speed camera contractor Xerox Corp.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gansler Comes Clean on Speed Camera Ticket

Attorney General Doug Gansler has admitted that a state vehicle issued to him had received a speed camera citation from the District of Columbia.  The Washington Post recently reported on inappropriate demands which state police alleged that Gansler had made to drivers assigned to transport him.  Gansler denied a report that he had received and refused to pay a speeding ticket he got in the mail stating “There’s a public record to show I never got a speeding ticket, so we know that’s not true.

The Washington Post now reports that Gansler has acknowledged that the Attorney General's Office was issued a ticket by the District of Columbia for a vehicle assigned to him.  Maryland state troopers had previously reported that the citation was issued "while the Attorney General was operating the vehicle in DC".  The citation, issued in June of 2012, was issued for traveling 21-25mph over the speed limit in a 30mph zone at the 2300 block of Porter Street NW.  The fine for the citation had been doubled because it was overdue.  Gansler says he has now paid the citation which he had "inadvertently not paid", without determining who was driving, according to the Post.

Monday, October 21, 2013

After Three Years, Brentwood Records Request Still Unresolved

Two Maryland Public Information Act requests we filed with the Town of Brentwood continue to be unresolved more than three years after the first request was sent to the town.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

SHA Deploys New Camera in Frederick County

The Maryland State Highway Administration has announced that a new speed camera will be deployed in a workzone on Route 340/US 15 in Frederick County.  The location is between I-70 and Zion Road.  Tickets will begin going out on November 12.

The new mobile speed camera site, which is all about safety and has nothing to do with revenue, will be located in workzone where the highway speed limit has been temporarily reduced from 65mph to 55mph.  Citations may be issued 24/7 and "regardless of whether workers are present", according to the wording of state law.

The SHA deploys speed cameras in cooperation with the Maryland State Police under a contract with Xerox State and Local Solutions (formerly known as ACS State and Local Solutions).  Xerox is the same contractor who formerly ran Baltimore City's program before they lost the contract and the program was shut down due to revelations of systematic errors, errors which occurred even though the Baltimore devices passed all calibration tests.  To prove accuracy, the SHA now publishes annual calibration certificates online... certificates issued by the same "independent calibration lab" (MRA Digital) which "certified" the cameras which produced the errors in Baltimore.  However the SHA and Xerox need not worry about speed measurement errors being proven in the SafeZones program using the same method that erroneous speed readings were proven by us and by the Baltimore Sun, since unlike Baltimore City the SHA rounds off timestamps on citations to the nearest second and Xerox has refused requests to provide the time intervals for lidar cameras, even in response to a subpoena.  The SHA advocated against a change in the law which would have made precise timestamps mandatory in order to detect errors, a change which was successfully blocked with the assistance of heavy lobbying by Montgomery County and groups like the Maryland Association of Counties.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Optotraffic Client Faces Lawsuit

Maryland based speed camera company Optotraffic is running into more difficulties expanding their business into other states, as the city of Lucas Ohio is being sued over the legality of their camera program which Optotraffic runs, according to the Mansfield News Journal.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Washington Post Article: MD Trooper Memos Depict AG Gansler as "Reckless Passenger"

The Washington Post has published a series of memos written by state troopers assigned to Attorney General Doug Gansler which document a series of safety related complaints by the police.

Excerpts from the Washington Post Article:
"Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regularly ordered state troopers assigned to drive him to turn on the lights and sirens on the way to routine appointments, directing them to speed, run red lights and bypass traffic jams by using the shoulder, according to written accounts by the Maryland State Police.
When troopers refused to activate the emergency equipment, Gansler, now a Democratic candidate for governor, often flipped the switches himself, according to the police accounts. And on occasion, he became so impatient that he insisted on driving, directing the trooper to the passenger’s seat. Gansler once ran four red lights with sirens blaring, a trooper wrote. Another account said he “brags” about driving the vehicle unaccompanied on weekends with the sirens on.
“This extremely irresponsible behavior is non-stop and occurs on a daily basis,” Lt. Charles Ardolini, commander of the state police executive protection section, wrote in a December 2011 memo that said the problem had existed for five years. “Attorney General Gansler has consistently acted in a way that disregards public safety, our Troopers safety and even the law.”
In the Dec. 16, 2011, memo, Ardolini said he realized how serious the problem had become that March after he saw Gansler’s SUV driving “Code 1” — speeding with lights and sirens — on Interstate 97.”
...a trooper wrote that he was “directed by the Attorney General that he was going to drive himself to the first event and for me to sit in the passenger seat.”
“While riding in the passenger seat,” he wrote, “I observed the Attorney General exceeding the speed limit, using his lights and siren to move people out of the way, hit the shoulder with his lights, and turn his lights and sirens on to go through four red lights.”
The same trooper reported that Gansler had “ordered and asked me on several occasions to run the shoulder while activating my lights and sirens. The Attorney General has also informed me that ‘Troopers do not sit in traffic.’ While driving him he constantly informs me that Troopers drive as fast as possible to events. 
In the documents obtained by The Post, the troopers also cite several things allegedly said by Gansler that they found troubling. Among them: “Stop signs are optional” and “I don’t care how fast we drive. The faster the better.” 
Ardolini’s memo said Gansler insisted on driving with lights and sirens to routine events such as “breakfast, meetings and his children’s sporting events.” 
The documents provided to The Post also include references to a few speeding tickets that involved Gansler’s vehicle when troopers said they were not driving it.
An e-mail written by Ardolini in November 2012 said a trooper told him about a speeding ticket Gansler received that remained unpaid. “He threw it away and said he was not paying it,” Ardolini wrote.
Wheelock said Gansler has no recollection of receiving any speeding tickets while driving the state-owned SUV.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Dough Gansler, Bob Wheelock, denies the reports.  "Wheelock said it’s common for troopers to drive faster than the speed limit when traveling with elected officials, and he questioned the motives of Ardolini," the Post reported.

“Doug was feeling like he was being given second-tier or too recently trained troopers," The Post Quoted Bob Wheellock as saying, "They were very inexperienced, and several of them didn’t know the area well. That was a source of irritation to Doug.”   A spokesperson for the Maryland State Police, Greg Shipley, was reported by the Post as saying that the executive protection section has no "second-tier" troopers.

Read the complete article in the Washington Post
Read State Trooper memos published by the Post

The Maryland Attorney General is the chief legal officer for the state, and heads the Office of Attorney General(OAG) which advises state agencies and the legislature on law.  During Gansler's term as Attorney General, the OAG has intervened in traffic enforcement issues in several recent instances by writing legal opinions supporting interpretations of the law convenient for local governments and opposing the interests of Motorist rights.  Among the opinions issued under Gansler's watch was a "get out of jail free card" which condoned Montgomery County's contingent fee speed camera contract.  This set a precedent for most speed camera contractors across the entire state to be paid based on the number of tickets issued, despite the fact that even Governor O'Malley has said this practice violates the intent of current law.  The Office For Attorney General also issued an opinion that citizens could not petition for referendums on speed cameras at the county level, unless this is a specific local law permits it. This is one of the reasons that only one local jurisdiction in the state has ever put speed cameras to a referendum.  The OAG also wrote an opinion which went against the decision of a circuit court judge who dismissed a speed camera citation, in a case which had appeared in the press.

While the OAG acted in support of local governments on these issues, when the editor of this website attempted to bring violations of the law BY speed camera programs to the attention of the OAG (including alleged violations of the Public Information Act by local governments and an instance of alleged forgery by local government officials) the OAG replied in each instance that they do not get involved in local government matters.

Doug Gansler is currently running for governor of Maryland.  Gansler denied charges of 'back seat driving' and responded that the complaints are a political attack by supporters of one of his opponents in the upcoming democratic primary.  “That story was based on one of the O’Malley-Brown henchmen. The guy actually works in the governor’s mansion” stated Gansler.  A statement by the Maryland State Police objected to troopers being referred to has "henchmen" and to the assertion that they engage in politically motivated actions , according to another article in the Post.

Additional Coverage:
WBAL: Troopers Complain About Gansler's "Backseat Driving"
NBC: Gansler Responds to 'Irresponsible Behavior' Allegations
Baltimore Sun: Gansler responds to claims he ordered troopers to drive in unsafe manner
Washington Post: Maryland state police rebuke Gansler for calling veteran trooper a ‘henchman’

Thursday, October 10, 2013

DC Council Examines Ticket Adjudication Process

WTOP reports that the DC council is considering a bill which would alter the ticket adjudication process.  The Traffic Adjudication Amendment Act of 2013 would require the DMV to rule on appeals within 6 months or automatically dismiss citations, and also permit drivers to reopen cases "if there's new evidence that clearly demonstrates their innocence."
Read Text of Bill
Many drivers think these measures will fix what they call a broken system. 
"It's their position that they're right. We don't really have a lot we can say," said Jocelyn Johnson, who testified at the hearing before the council's Committee on Transportation and the Environment. "No matter what you tell them, you have to go through so many hoops. It goes above and beyond because they don't have a process to give you the benefit of anything."

That sentiment has been echoed many times to WTOP since the Ticketbuster series launched earlier this year. Many drivers are upset with the DMV over what they see as red tape and a lack of customer service. Some feel the department's hearing examiners are predisposed to finding ways to rule against drivers on challenged tickets.

DMV Director Lucinda Babers disagreed with that assessment when asked about whether the process is fair.

"Absolutely I believe so," Babers said. "I review hundreds of these cases. If I believed they weren't, then I'd do something about it if they have evidence to support it."
WTOP reports that DC writes 1.8-2million tickets for various types of violations every year.  For parking and speed camera tickets which are appealed the city is not required to meet the standard of "beyond reasonable doubt", but only "preponderance of evidence" or "clear and convincing evidence" respectively, which is a far lower standard in legal terms.  WTOP found several cases where motorists had been fined for violations issued to a license plate which they had surrendered years earlier, and reported that they frequently hear complaints of "poor customer service" with respect to DC tickets. 

The Transportation and Environment committee, chaired by Councilwoman Mary Cheh, must now review the bill's language and decide whether to change, approve or kill it.

Read complete story on WTOP

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New Cell Phone Law in Effect

Maryland drivers are reminded that the state law banning the use of hand held cell phones has recently been modified to make it a primary offense, which means motorists can be stopped at any time for using a hand-held cell phone.  Maryland had a cell phone ban on the book for several years but police were not permitted to stop a motorist solely for this reason until the legislature amended the law this year.  Police have begun enforcing the new law, which now carries a $75 fine for the first offense and higher fines for second and third offenses.

Police officers are specifically exempted from Maryland's cell phone law.
Read Text of Cell Phone Legislation.