Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Will Montgomery County Seek To Reinstate "Squealer Provision"?

We previously reported that the court has ruled it is an explicitly permitted defense under Maryland law if the recipient of a speed camera ticket ticket is not the driver, and moreover that this does not require the person to identify and incriminate the person who was driving.  The language on citations implies to ticket recipients that the only option is to "transfer liability" which applies "If you, as the registered owner, were not operating the vehicle at the time of this infraction and you choose to identify the person who was".  The circuit court ruled that a change made to the law in 2009 deleted the requirement to identify the driver, and district court judges in Montgomery County have upheld this twice since then.

However Montgomery County has refused to change the language which appears on their citations.  Furthermore, the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program has indicated that the believe that the specifically authorized affirmative defense is a "loophole" created by an ill informed legislature, and raised the possibility that Montgomery County could seek to negate the court decision in the future by restoring to state law the requirement to incriminate another person in order to exonerate yourself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Camera News: Cameras Slammed in New Jersey, Ohio

The new Jersey Senate Transportation Committee has approved a measure to block the enforcement of out of state photo tickets.  According to TheNewspaper.Com:
The panel on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure modeled after a South Dakota law that would immunize the state's residents from photo enforcement tickets issued by other jurisdictions.
The measure, championed by state Assemblyman Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr (R-Monmouth), forbids the state Motor Vehicle Commission from cooperating with NLETS, the interstate motor vehicle information network that red light camera and speed camera companies use to look up the license plate and registration information on out-of-state drivers. Without this information, the ticket cannot be mailed.
The ban would presumably prevent Maryland speed and red light camera citations from being enforced for New Jersey drivers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gubernatorial Candidate Urges Motorists to Vote For Question One

This November, in addition to voting for candidates for the state legislate and for governor, voters will have the opportunity to vote on a ballot question to create an amendment to the state constitution which would limit the legislature's ability to divert money from the Transportation Trust Fund.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Montgomery County Citations, Calibration Log Defects Went Unnoticed For Months

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has learned that speed camera citations issued by Montgomery County as well as some of the "daily setup logs" associated with some cameras contained systematic errors which went unnoticed and uncorrected for months and possibly years.

Citations Provided Incorrect Address to Exercise Legal Right

The citation defect appears to affect all speed camera citations issued during the later part of 2012, all of 2013, and the first half of 2014.  Under Maryland law, a defendant contesting a citation is permitted to request the presence of the speed monitoring system citation operator in court by sending a letter making the request at least 20 days prior to the hearing.  However the backs of Montgomery County citation provide an incorrect address to which such requests are to be sent.  In fact the instructions read: "Send this correspondence in an envelope marked “Operator Request” to: Montgomery County Customer Service at 1-866-579-5742"
Specifically telling the defendant to mail the "Operator Request" in an address addressed to a phone number.

Any letter addressed as shown would not be delivered by the Post office.

This defect apparently went unnoticed by Montgomery County Safe Speed during a period of many months.  The citation template containing the erroneous information was approved by the District Court in 2012, and hundreds of thousands of citations were issued during that time without any employee of the Safe Speed program requesting that it be changed.

In 2014, Richard Harrison, the program manager and "local designee" for the Safe Speed Program, confirmed the error and stated to the Maryland Drivers Alliance in July of 2014 that the address would be corrected.  Harrison, who rejected the commonly used term "ombudsman" to describe his duties, asserted without proof that no individuals were denied their right to face the operator due to this issue.   In reality there is no way of knowing whether some motorists did not exercise their right to request the Operator's testimony because incorrect instructions were provided.

Long Path To Confronting an Accuser
The issues were uncovered by a member of the Alliance who disputed a citation and who was ultimately found not guilty by the circuit court.  The defendant in this case recognized the error, but nevertheless mailed a request to the address shown on the citation, precisely as shown.  Not surprisingly the letter was returned by the postal service "address unknown".

However the defendant in this case was an expert on speed camera law and was unusually familiar with the County's program, he was able to determine the correct address to which the "Operator Request" needed to be sent, and did send such a request.  However upon appearing in District Court and requesting to cross examine the operator, who did happen to be present in the room, and presenting the court with a copy of the request and a certified mail receipt, the district court judge refused to permit "you don't need to testify" the judge told the Operator.

The right to confront an individual providing testimony against a defendant has been upheld by the US Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, this was not respected by the District Court in this case, and the defendant was unable to confront the operator, and thus unable to present questions to her about the "daily setup logs" she had signed as the defendant has intended.  In this case the defendant appealed the citation to Circuit Court.  The fact that this entailed paying a non-refundable fee which was twice the cost of the original fine, plus hundreds of dollars in other expenses, is the main reason only a handful of speed camera cases have ever been appealed above District Court.

Prior to the circuit court hearing, the defendant repeated sending the request in the same way, one copy to the "address" shown on the citation, and one to the correct address.  Once again the letter sent to the "address" on the citation was returned address unknown.

Camera Logs Contained Systematic Defect
The circuit court did permit the defendant to cross examine the operator, who appeared completely surprised by the defects on the logs.  The defendant (representing himself 'pro se' questioned the operator (Stephanie Little) about the "daily setup" log which she had signed, which contained an apparent defect:
Daily Setup Log Containing Defect: Click to Enlarge

"Q: Would You say the cameras are as accurate as these logs?"
A: Yes
A That is why we perform the test of the electric tuning 
fork to verify that the system is working correctly.   
 Q Excellent.  That's a -- so what is step five on the log?  A That's just saying how to operate the system software -- that just    
 Q Yeah, what does it --  
  MR. STEVENSON:  Can she finish her answer?   
  THE COURT:  Had you finished your answer?   
  MS. LITTLE:  Yes.  No.  I'm not finished yet.  And how we -- and the using level that it's set to to operate the CIT2 software that also assists in operating the fixed camera unit.   
  THE COURT:  Okay.   
  BY MR. ELY  
 Q Okay, and did you certify that item according to the log?   
 A Yes.   
 Q Is there an SL next to that item on the log?   
 A Well, on number five?   
 Q Next to number five, yes.   
 A No, but there's an SL everywhere else. 
 Q Okay.  Yes, that is interesting.  What -- could you please read the description of the task for number seven?   
 A There's nothing there on number seven.   
 Q Oh, and did you complete that task --  
 A Yes.   
 Q -- according to the log?   
 A I'm not responsible for printing out the deployment -- when I see these deployment logs on the computer, we have a button there that says that verify and check that everything was checked.  How it's printed out I have nothing to do with that, but before I save this log it usually tells me that it's missing my initial or anything else."

It is unclear how many camera logs contained these defects, or for what period of time they were issued.  However  the defendant in this case had requested all daily setup logs for the camera locate 19600 Blk of Georgia Avenue from May 15, 2013 – May 21, 2013, and all logs provided contained the same error.  To the best of our knowledge, Montgomery County has not issued any refunds for citations issued with these daily setup log errors.  Montgomery County spent taxpayer money going to court to uphold the principal that paying a citation is an admission of speeding, and therefore that a local government cannot be sued to force the refund citations for any reason whatsoever.

The defect demonstrates that printed copies of "electronic logs" may in fact not authentically reproduce what the operators "sign: by pressing a button.  Normally "hearsay" evidence is permitted in court, however state lawmakers exempted speed cameras records from hearsay evidence, and define them to be evidence of the violation without the testimony of the "operators" who "signed" them by merely pressing a button (the "signatures" on the logs are also digitally imprinted).  However only the the state is exempted from "hearsay" evidence rules... defendants are not permitted hearsay in their defense.

In at least one case a circuit court judge has ruled in the past that digital signatures on speed camera citations did not have legal standing.  The possibility that electronically reproduced documents may not accurately reflect what was actually "signed" is one argument why electronic signatures should not be sufficient to authenticate a document.

Upon questioning of the operator in this circuit court case, the Operator also was did not correctly recall the location of signs in the vicinity.  The operator claimed to be very familiar with the area and incorrectly stated that the speed limit south of the camera was marked as 30mph for a full mile, when in fact photographs presented by the defendant showed that the camera was placed near a speed transition zone, about 160 yards from the point where the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph.
The circuit court did not rule on these issues in this case, and instead found the defendant in this case not guilty on the basis that state law makes it a defense if you are not the driver.  The prosecution had agreed that the defendant in this case was not the driver, and the County attorney furthermore made a statements which implied that the prosecution was aware the defendant was not the driver when they decided to spent thousands of taxpayer dollars prosecuting the case of a $40 ticket in Circuit Court.

Montgomery's History of Denying Legal Rights, Lack of Transparency

Monday, September 15, 2014

Montgomery County Has No Ombudsman, Still Pays Per Ticket

Earlier this year state lawmakers passed a so-called reform measure which proponents claimed would "end the bounty system" (paying contractors based on the number of tickets) and address concerns about errors by creating an "ombudsman" for each local speed camera program.  However correspondence with a representative of Montgomery County reveals that neither thing has actually happened.

Insurance Company AAA Mid Atlantic, an organization with a long history of supporting speed cameras, praised and took credit for the reform bill.  In 2010 AAA's Lon Anderson was quoted by the Washington Post as taking credit for the legislation which authorized statewide speed cameras in Maryland.  In a similar  fashion, AAA took credit for the reform legislation.  AAA claimed that the legislation, which went into effect June 1, was "Ending the Bounty System".  AAA's press release promoting Maryland Speed Cameras also stated "The law also requires each jurisdiction in the state with such a program to appoint an ombudsman to resolve and void erroneous citations before the motorist goes to court to prove his or her innocence and to respond to citizens’ complaints, questions, and concerns about the program".

The term 'Ombudsman' is often defined as "a commissioner who acts as independent referee between individual citizens and their government or its administration" and many people construe the term to mean an individual who has a degree of independence from a program and who is capable of being objective.  The term has been widely used with respect to this reform legislation in news reports, press releases, and legislative testimony by Montgomery County, and in previous correspondence from the county.  During legislative hearings Captai Tom Didone, the Head of Montgomery County's traffic enforcement division, had introduced Mr Richard Harrison as the county's "ombudsman" to the state legislature, using that term.  

However when asked about his duties, Richard Harrison three times rejected the use of the term "ombudsman" to describe his role.  "OMBUDSMAN -- is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014."  stated Harrison in a letter dated July 2014.  In response to a second letter, Harrison wrote again in a letter dated September 2, 2014. "Ombusman is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014.  We use the term local designee."

In response to the question "Do you believe it is the Role of Montgomery County's "Ombudsman" to be an independent advocate for the public when addressing complaints regarding the Safe Speed Program that are of a systematic nature, or is your role to defend the county's position even if that position conflicts with the people's legal rights?"

Harrison responded "As I have stated above I am the Local Designee, not an ombudsman."  ... "It is my role, as the county's local designee and as a county employee, to objectively carry out these duties and responsibilities imposed on the Local Designee by law."

Harrison then vigorously defended the county's position regarding certain language which appears on citations.  Harrison specifically refused to request a change to the "Transfer of Liability" instructions on citations, which we have argues incorrectly indicates that it is a requirement under the law to identify the driver.  "No, I am not going to make any request of the District Court."  (The Maryland Drivers Alliance has previously reported that the circuit court has ruled it is a defense under Maryland law if the person named in the citation was not driving, and it is our opinion that language on citations and the Montgomery County website misleads motorists into believing they are required to identity the driver to exercise the defense, which the circuit court ruled is not the case.  A dispute on this matter is ongoing. )

More of a "YesMan" than an "Ombudsman"
In the same letter, Harrison responded to the question about "Who is the current Program Manager for the Montgomery County Safe Speed Program?" that he is the Safe Speed program manager, and he confirmed that Captain Tom Didone is his immediate supervisor.

The September 2 letter was in response to questions the Maryland Drivers Alliance had asked regarding statements made by Captain Tom Didone.  Therefore in Montgomery County it is up to the Program Manager of the program to  "objectively" investigate such a complaint about the program which he himself manages, as well as any questions about the actions or statements of his immediate supervisor.

In any event, by Harrison's own statement, Montgomery County most certainly has no "ombudsman".

Semantic Games, Not Real Change
Harrison also responded to a question about Montgomery County's current "Bounty System" contract.  Harrison confirmed that Montgomery county still pays their contractor on a per ticket basis.  Harrison stated that the county has until June 2017 to comply with the change.  Harrison stated that the Procurement and County Attorney's office was looking at options for a new contract arrangement, including "tiered pricing".

"Tiered Pricing" arrangement would essentially pay the vendor for *batches* of tickets, or use some other formula based on ticket volume to compute the fee, rather than paying a flat fee.  Thus it would still be based on ticket volume, and is in fact the very definition of being "contingent on the number of citations issued or paid".  Thus the goal of making is to contractors are not incentive to issue more tickets is not satisfied, rather it is legitimized.  Only the words "per-ticket" would be changed, not the fact that they would be paying their contractor based on ticket volume.

In 2011, Montgomery County added an amendment to their speed camera contract which would immediately switch the payment structure from $16.25 per ticket to a flat fee per camera if the legislature passed legislation closing the loophole permitting per-ticket payments.  However Montgomery County has apparently elected not to exercise this provision and ACTUALLY "end the bounty system" immediately and completely, even though they have the contractual means to do so at any time.

We previously reported how another speed camera contractor, Brekford, had cheered about how the changes to the law would not affect them, because they had locked in new long term contract extensions which would allow them to continue "bounty system" contracts for years to come.  So far we have not found any local governments which paid their contractor based on ticket volume at the time the "reform" legislation was passed which have actually switched to a flat fee.


New Rules = New Loopholes, Still No Enforcement
Before the reform legislation, there was an existing provision of the law which stated "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."   It was the legislative intent, as stated in the fiscal policy notes that payments to contractors not be made based on the number of tickets issued however Montgomery County found that they could circumvent the previous wording of the law by not using the term "operate" to describe what the contractor does and rendering the provision ineffective.  "Bounty System" contracts based on a loophole which Montgomery County invented soon became the norm in much of the state.

The legislation claiming to "end the bounty system" reworded the language from stating "operates" to "administers or processes citations", but then changed the language from "contingent on the number of citations" to "contingent ON A PER TICKET BASIS".  It therefore does NOT end all payments based on the number of tickets, but rather legitimizes payments based on ticket volume so long as it is not a fixed dollar amount for one single ticket.

 Since existing contracts were grandfathered in until mid 2017, the promises being made about "ending the bounty system" do not need to be kept until long after, and thus the manner in which they will create new loopholes to continue paying based on ticket column-- need not be made public until years later.   And since the state's speed camera law contains no outside oversight and no enforcement mechanism for its requirements, local governments are free to be as creative as they wish in their efforts to do so without having to be concerned that such loopholes will be deemed illegal.  Most press releases about the "end of the bounty system" (including those by AAA) have cleverly redefined the term "bounty system" (which isn't actually a term any contract uses) to only say it ends an explicit single payment for a single ticket, and not include all other types of arrangements based on ticket volume.

Closed Process, Insincere Lawmakers, Whitewashed Problems
The "reform" legislation was drafted by a secret legislative workgroup, which the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program Captain Tom Didone says he was a member of.  Didone has not responded to requests for information about this workgroup's membership, meeting agendas, or minutes.  (Some organizations have and reporters have noted that it is becoming more common for the legislature to create temporary workgroups to discuss controversial legislation and exempt those meeting from Maryland's "sunshine laws").  By the time the legislation was dumped on the house committee floor, the committee had not intention of hearing from the public. Sponsors told motorists who came to testify that they already knew all their was to know about speed cameras, and Vice Chair James Malone stated that "today is "me too' day" (using those words) and that those attending should "just say 'Me Too.'".

The Maryland Drivers Alliance did not say "me too", but instead stated that the legislation was filled with loopholes and contained only cosmetic changed which would not address the problem.  Montgomery County is apparently determined to prove us correct.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Happens When You Take a DC Police Officer's Picture?

When DC Police routinely photograph and video the public, and motorists, with cameras mounted all across the city, the public is told that "There is no expectation of privacy in public places."  So how do they react when someone tries to film police?  A Washington Post reporter just found out.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DC Inspector General Finds Motorists are "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

The DC Inspector General released a scathing report on the Districts ATE (Automated Traffic Enforcement) system and parking ticket system, which concluded that tickets were being issued based on insufficient evidence and that motorists were essentially being presumed guilty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Baltimore To Begin Investigation Into Camera Errors

From the Baltimore Sun:
City Councilman James B. Kraft says he’s hired two investigators to help complete a City Council probe of Baltimore’s troubled speed camera system.Two paralegals -– who are paid $32 and $26 per hour, respectively –- from the Robert Half Legal staffing firm began work last week reviewing thousands of documents that the Rawlings-Blake administration turned over to Kraft’s committee.“The mayor has approved the money for two full-time investigators for up to three months,” Kraft said.A City Council committee is investigating the work of former Baltimore speed camera contractors Xerox State & Local Solutions and Brekford Corp., but that probe had stalled as Kraft said he needs to hire staff to go through the voluminous documents turned over to him.
[...]
The city’s speed camera system has been shut down for more than a year following The Baltimore Sun's revelations about erroneous tickets. The Sun investigation found errors at many cameras, including tickets issued for slow-moving or stopped cars. When operating, the network of 83 speed cameras and 81 red-light cameras brought more than $140 million to city government through $40 speed camera citations given out in school zones and $75 red light camera tickets.
An audit of Xerox's cameras showed some had double-digit error rates and tests of Brekford's system disclosed widespread problems.
Three speed camera companies have registered lobbyists with the city in an attempt to win the rights to run the camera system when the city resurrects it. Harris has said the administration is waiting for the City Council to complete an investigation of Baltimore's camera problems before requesting new bids.
This is the latest in a series of events in Baltimore's currently mothballed Speed Camera program which has been going on since 2012.
   - In October of 2012 the Maryland Drivers Alliance was provided several videos of ticketed trucks which were CLEARLY not traveling the recorded speed.  The city had not responded to complaints from these companies, one of the trucking companies spent hundreds of dollars hiring an attorney to get the tickets dismissed in court.
   - The Baltimore Sun's extensive investigation showed more apparent errors, including large trucks apparently not traveling at the recorded speed.  The city's initial response was denial that there was a serious problem, and to try to out spin the story in other media outlets.
   - Documents retrieved by the Maryland Drivers Alliance in the second half of 2012 proved that the city was aware of multiple erroneous speed camera tickets at a camera on Cold Spring Lane eight months before.
   - Only when the Baltimore Sun found a video showing a COMPLETELY STATIONARY car getting a ticket did enough other media outlets swarm onto the story that the city could not ignore it.
   - It was only in December of 2012 that Xerox actually admitted there were hundreds of systematic errors caused by "radar effects".
   - On top of this, there had been multiple instances where hundreds tickets had been issued based on an incorrectly recorded speed limit.
   - The city commenced an Audit, for the purpose of getting leverage over Xerox in their contract dispute and possible legal action.  This audit was initially *kept secret* when the Baltimore Sun asked for it.  The only reason it was eventually revealed was because it was **leaked** in early 2014.  That audit showed double digit error rates at MANY cameras.
   - The speed camera task force was also found to have conducted *secret meetings* which violated the open meetings act.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance had obtained documents which showed that the the cameras which produced the errors passed all their calibration tests, even on the very day that a stationary car was issued a ticket for speeding, demonstrating that "calibration" does not prove the cameras are accurate in the real world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Report Reveals Why Red Light Camera Studies Show Conflicting Results

Red Light Camera Studies often report conflicting results on safety, with some studies showing increases in accidents (particularly rear end collisions) and others showing decreases when red light cameras are used.  The conflicting reports are often cited by photo enforcement advocates (typically including photo enforcement industry and the insurance industry) and opponents.  A peer reviewed article published in the Journal of Evaluation attempted on and Health Professionals examined why this would be the case.  The evaluation was conducted by University of South Flordia researchers Barbara Langland-Orban, Etienne E. Pracht and John T. Large joined Cincinnati Children's Medical Hospital Center's Nanhua Zhang and the University of Florida's Joseph T. Tepas.  The abstract for the study (from PubMed.gov website) reads as follows:
"Evaluations of red light camera (RLC) traffic safety programs have produced mixed results. Some conclude RLCs were associated with significant increases in motor vehicle crashes and injury crashes, whereas other research reports safety benefits. To understand the difference in findings, the present analysis assessed whether standards required for internal validity in quasi-experimental public health program evaluations were adhered to in frequently cited RLC analyses. Four evaluation standards were identified and used to assess the RLC analyses: lack of bias in the selection of both (a) treated sites and (b) comparison sites, (c) integration of relevant control variables in the analysis, and (d) full disclosure of results of the statistical analysis. Six leading RLC studies were then critiqued. Only two of the six studies adhered to the four standards and both concluded RLCs were associated with significant increases in crashes and injury or possible injury crashes. A third study reported an increase in fatal/injury crashes but did not test for statistical significance. Three studies reported equivocal findings; however, each failed to adhere to most standards. Differences in findings were attributed to the evaluation methods used. If implementing an RLC program, communities should use sound public health evaluation methods to assess effectiveness."
A primary issue involved is called "selection bias".  Put as simply as possible, typically studies compares a set of "treated" intersections (one where a camera has been added) to a set of "control" intersections where cameras were not added, and attempts to compare the difference in accident rates, or reduction in accident rates.  If the treated intersections had a very high rate of accidents before adding cameras (particularly if this represented an unusual spike of accidents), and the control intersections had a very low rate of accidents before the study, then the comparison in rates is not valid because to treated intersections would be expected to decline. In the examined studies where the control and treated samples started out with similar rates and other rigorous statistically rigorous methods were followed, the cameras were showed to be associated with increases in accidents.