Thursday, January 23, 2014

Speed Camera Complaints Arise in Baltimore City, Montgomery, Prince George's

Excerpt from Audit Showing Error Rates Per Camera
An Audit of Baltimore City's speed camera program found that error rates were 40 times higher than what the city previously acknowledged, according to an article by the Baltimore Sun, and that far more erroneous citations may have been issued than what the city refunded.

The city initially withheld the report from the Baltimore Sun, resisting calls from some city council members to disclose the findings to the public.  However a copy of the audit was leaked to the Sun despite the city's denial.  The audit revealed an "error rate" of approximately ten percent, which is substantially higher than previously acknowledged, with about one in ten citations examined showing an error.
The city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.
City Council members reacted with dismay and anger when told Wednesday of the audit's results, asking why the Rawlings-Blake administration didn't reveal the high error rate months ago and take steps to fully refund fines paid by motorists.
 
"It's outrageous. No, it's beyond outrageous," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been calling on the city to release the audit. "Who ever heard of a secret audit? We should have told the public immediately. We should have declared complete amnesty, that all of the tickets were null and void. If anybody paid, they should be paid back."
The audit identified 13 cameras with double-digit error rates, including one at Loch Raven Boulevard that was giving out more erroneous tickets than accurate citations.
A camera in the 1000 block of Caton Ave. had a 35 percent error rate, the audit found. A device at the 6500 block of Eastern Ave. had a 45 percent error rate. And a speed camera in the 5400 block of Loch Raven Blvd. had a 58 percent error rate.
"That is extraordinary," said City Council member Robert Curran. "Anything more than a 2 percent error rate is unacceptable."
 
Throughout 2012, city officials repeatedly claimed the error rate of their 83 cameras was "less than a quarter of one percent" in response to a Sun investigation that documented erroneous speed readings at seven cameras.\ 
City officials said Wednesday that they shut down the entire speed camera program last spring — by then being run by a different company — within a week of reviewing the audit's findings. They pointed out that they have made some efforts over time to void or refund tickets they believed were obviously erroneous.
Read the complete article on the Baltimore Sun Website
See a copy of the leaked audit report

Additional Coverage on Baltimore's Xerox Speed Camera Audit:
CBS: Road for speed cameras gets bumpier as secret audit sparks cover-up claims
WBALTV: Audit - More people may have received flawed speed camera tickets
Fox Baltimore: Secret Audit Hid Baltimore City Speed Camera Flaws
NBC: Councilman Calls for Refunds for Erroneous Tickets
ABC News 2: Baltimore City Leaders in Dark Over Extent of Bogus Tickets
Citypaper.com: Speed Camera Audit Not Secret Anymore
Autos.AOL.Com: Secret Audit Finds Baltimore's Speed Cameras Unreliable
Examiner.Com: Colossal speed camera error, 70,000 tickets may be wrong



Elsewhere in the state, residents in the vicinity of one camera operated by Montgomery County on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda have questioned the accuracy of the device.  Complaints were discussed on a Bradley Boulevard neighborhood listserv, according to an article in BethesdaNow.com:
Laurie Thomas said she got a citation from a speed camera in the 5600 block of Bradley Boulevard for going 42 miles per hour in the 30 mile per hour zone on Dec. 27.
Paula Spasaro said she got one for going 43 miles per hour on Dec. 30. “I was absolutely not going that fast,” Spasaro wrote.
Shaila Ohri said she got a citation from a camera in the 5900 block of Bradley Boulevard for going 43 miles per hour on Dec. 28. Jennifer Gaum said she got cited for going 42 miles per hour on Dec. 29. Vehicles traveling 12 or more miles per hour over the speed limit can be ticketed, according to state law.
They are a few of more than 15 residents who contacted BethesdaNow.com with citations for going 42, 43 or 44 miles per hour from the set of speed cameras on Bradley Boulevard near Huntington Parkway. Most denied they were going that fast, saying as residents they are well aware of where speed cameras are posted.

Channel 5 news has investigated the complaints.  The head of Montgomery's speed camera program has denied that there are any problems with the camera because the devices are calibrated.

Montgomery County's contractor, Xerox, is the same one which previously ran Baltimore City's program during the time period referenced in the now disclosed audit, and Xrox's cameras in Baltimore City issued erroneous citations even when all calibration tests had passed. But hey "Trust us, it's different this time".  And it is different in Montgomery County: unlike Baltimore's cameras, Montgomery County's cameras round timestamps off to the second.    Because of this, verifying vehicle speeds after the fact using images is for all practical purposes impossible in Montgomery County, as would conducting the sort of audit for accuracy like the one Baltimore performed which showed high rates of errors.  Last year Montgomery County spent extensive taxpayer resources opposing a requirement that such secondary evidence of speed exist.

In addition, Prince George's County is refunding $82,000 worth of citations after an investigation by WUSA9.  The county disclosed that the location of the camera had not met a requirement of state law that the location of the cameras be published prior to it's activation.  Refunds for the camera located on the 2300 block of Brinkley Road should be received within 45 days, according to police.