Saturday, February 15, 2014

Forty Six State Lawmakers Call For Speed Camera Audits

A bill sponsored by by forty-six state lawmakers calls for quarterly audits of all local speed camera programs.

The wording of House Bill 1288 reads:
(I) A LOCAL JURISDICTION SHALL OBTAIN A QUARTERLY  AUDIT OF ITS SPEED MONITORING SYSTEMS CONDUCTED BY A QUALIFIED  INDEPENDENT PERSON. 
   (II) THE RESULTS OF THE QUARTERLY AUDIT: 
            1. SHALL BE KEPT ON FILE; AND 
            2. SHALL BE ADMITTED AS EVIDENCE IN ANY COURT PROCEEDING FOR A VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION. 

The sponsors of the bill are: Delegates Warren Miller, Arentz, Aumann, Bates, Bobo, Clippinger, Cluster, Conway, Costa, Davis, DeBoy, Elliott, Frank, Guzzone, Haddaway-Riccio, Haynes, Hucker, Impallaria, Jameson, K. Kelly, Kramer, Krebs, Lafferty, Love, McComas, McDermott, McDonough, McHale, Minnick, Mitchell, Myers, Norman, O'Donnell, Oaks, Olszewski, Otto, Rudolph, Schuh, Serafini, Smigiel, Stocksdale, Summers, F. Turner, Vaughn, Walker, and M. Washington.

The bill comes in the wake of the leaking of a secret audit of Baltimore City's speed camera program, which revealed error rates of ten percent overall, and much higher for a few locations, a rate forty times higher than was previously acknowledged.  There have also been errors in other parts of the state, including Wicomico County and Montgomery County.  And failures to follow calibration procedures have been confirmed in Hagerstown, Greenbelt, and Salisbury.  One local government, Morningside, refused to produced any calibration documents when we requested them.  The SHA also flunked an internal audit of their speed camera program in 2012.

The fact that the audit is required to be admissible as evidence is significant, since a defendant would be able to note any of an audit's findings in their defense.  It also would ensure the audit could not be kept secret.  Baltimore City denied the press access to their own damning audit, and has sought to spy on the employee suspected of leaking the report.

The bill, while simple and straight forward, is unspecific about the TYPE of audit to be performed.  For example whether it needs to actually check accuracy in the same way as the Baltimore City audit did, or whether specific documents and practices must be evaluated as part of such an audit.  It is also unspecific about who constitutes a "qualified independent person".  As such this would seem to be left to the discretion of the local government, unless the bill is amended to add more details.

Despite that, there is a chance that a less competent programs might "accidentally" have their faults revealed despite themselves.  Baltimore probably didn't think they were going to get a "real audit", but ended up accidentally getting the most thorough audit of any speed camera program in the state.

There is apparently some resistance to the idea from local governments. Howard County has also asserted that they see no need for audits.  Todd Pounds, the attorney for the Town of Morningside, told WTOP that if they thought there should be an audit of their speed camera program, WTOP should pay for it.

Tom Didone, who heads Montgomery County's speed camera program stated in his testimony on another bill that they already review each citation "and that does an automatic, basically a self audit for every citation that's issued in the county".  This clearly demonstrates no understanding of what the word "Audit" means, and tends to make one think Montgomery County would not willingly perform the type of audit which happened in Baltimore, but rather would try to pass off something they do already as an audit.

We think the local governments which oppose audits are the ones which should be audited first.

Delegate Aisha Braveboy has created a separate audit proposal, which would authorize the governor to require the audit.  Delegate Jon Cardin has also called for audits, and additionally is sponsoring a bill which addresses errors in other ways.

However the vice chair of the Environmental Matters Committee, James Malone, has created a "decoy speed camera reform bill", with the intention of allowing only "cosmetic" measures supported by county governments which profit from speed camera programs, and nothing else, to get through his committee.

A hearing on HB1288 to discuss audits is scheduled for Feb 25 in the Environmental Matters Committee.  You can follow this and other legislation on our Legislative Tracker Page.