Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rockville Falsely Accuses School Bus of Speeding

The City of Rockville voided a speed camera citation issued to a school bus after a request by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance show that citation number RK004432787 issued to a Montgomery County school bus was voided as a speed measurement error.  The City of Rockville speed camera located at 2100 block of Baltimore Road and run by contractor Xerox Corporation, claimed the bus had been traveling 54 MPH in a 25 MPH zone -- more than twice the legally posted speed limit.


However email correspondence reveals that the Board of education made a complaint to Montgomery County Police, who intervened on their behalf with Xerox Corporation and the City of Rockville.  Xerox then confirmed that the Bus's recorded speed was due to an erroneous speed reading, stating:
"As I understand and supported by bus telematics, the bus was not violating and the large surface area of he bus reflected the radar beam onto vehicles moving in the opposite direction, which presented the "shift".  The system measured the shift and calculated a higher speed than the bus was actually traveling.  This is a known possibility and we should have caught it in processing."



Rockville Uses Same Model of Speed Camera As Baltimore's Failed Program
The Maryland Drivers Alliance requested the calibration records for the speed camera which issued this  citation, which revealed that the camera was a Mesa Engineering G1-ATR.  The calibration records for the Rockville camera which erroneous recorded this school bus's speed showed that both the daily and annual calibration tests for this device PASSED.




Calibration Certificate For Rockville Speed Camera

Normally the fact that a device has passed its calibration tests is considered ABSOLUTE PROOF OF GUILT, since the devices are assumed to be accurate.

The Mesa Engineering G1-ATR is the same model of cameras had previously been used by Baltimore City before their program was shut down after revelations about systematic erroneous citations.  An investigation by the Baltimore Sun revealed that Baltimore's program had issued citations to stationary vehicles, and other cases had been documented in Baltimore where trucks were cited for traveling at twice their actual speed.  Xerox was forced to acknowledge that these errors were due to what they described as “Radar Effects”, and an audit of their program revealed as many as ten percent of citations may have been issued in error.   Documents we obtained from Baltimore City in 2013 showed that cameras which issued erroneous citations in Baltimore also passed their annual and daily calibration tests.  For comparison, the calibration certificate below applied to a Baltimore City speed camera which issued a citation to a stationary car.
Comparison: Calibration Cert from a Baltimore City camera which ticketed a stationary vehicle in 2012

The annual calibrations for Rockville's cameras were performed by the same company as the one which approved the calibration certificates we obtained from Baltimore's program: MRA Digital.  Both the City of Rockville and City of Baltimore calibration documents were signed by MRA Digital president Heinz Stubblefeld.  We note that nowhere on these certificates does it claim the device was certified “to accurately measure speed”, nor does it claim the devices were certified to be appropriate for any particular purpose.  In fact there is no evidence on the certificate itself indicating that any form of speed measurement testing was actually performed.

The statement on the certificates that the device was "found to be within the prescribed limits of Type III and Type IV radar devices (ka band) as established by the FCC" sounds impressive, except that the FCC doesn't set standards for radar accuracy.  The FCC only specifies what frequency a device is supposed to operate at, which has nothing to do with whether it is suitable for any particular purpose.  Also the scientific-looking little graphics on the calibration certificates are simply stock images taken from Wikimedia commons which have nothing to do with the testing of the devices.

Nevertheless such calibration documents are considered entirely valid under Maryland law and would be considered absolute proof of the accuracy of a device in Montgomery County District Court since Maryland law does not specify any particular standard to which devices must be tested.  Similar documents signed by Mr Stubblefeld and MRA Digital have been used as evidence thousands of time and are accepted by the court as reliable testimony of the accuracy of equipment without question.

The documents also show that this particular citation allegedly passed inspection by a Rockville City police officer.  Documents show that Corporal Norman Paul "signed" a statement stating that "based on my inspection of the recorded images produced by the speed monitoring system in this case, which images are copied on Citation No RK004432787, the motor vehicle depicted in the recorded was being operated in violation of subtitles 8 of Title 21 of the Transportation Article of Maryland Annotated Code." (ie speeding).
However Corporal Paul was incorrect, as the later examination proved that the speed measurement device was in error.  It is unknown at this time how many other speeding violations Corporal Norman Paul has testified to the accuracy of.

Most local governments currently assert the only purpose of citation images is to confirm that the vehicle was "present and moving", which this school bus was.   The cameras in Baltimore City where systematic errors were documented provided defendants with VIDEOS of violations, making documenting a pattern of errors possible, but Rockville provides no such videos so proving a pattern of errors in the same way would be far more difficult, and requirements that citations provide enough information to verify speed have been strongly opposed by local governments including Rockville and Montgomery County.

Had this citation been disputed in court, the above documents would have been admitted as evidence.  Given that all of the documentation for this particular citation was seemingly in order, a defendant who didn't happen to be operating a vehicle on behalf of a local government would have had ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE disputing this ticket by claiming the device was in error.  It is highly unlikely that a motorist driving a privately owned car would have been afforded any benefit of the doubt by either Rockville or Montgomery County in such a situation.  Motorists have alleged speed measurement errors in other cases, and had their cases rejected by so called "ombudsmen" without the detailed analysis performed in this instance.  Rockville nevertheless dismissed this citation issued to a local government operated vehicle upon request of the Montgomery County Board of Education.


WE WILL HAVE MORE ON THIS STORY VERY SOON

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Montgomery County's So Called “Ombudsman” Refuses To Respond To Questions

The so called “Ombudsman” for Montgomery County's speed camera has been deliberately refusing to respond to “questions and concerns” as  is his specifically prescribed duty and obligation under state law.

The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website submitted questions and concerns to Montgomery County's “local designee” (aka “Ombudsman”) citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4) which states "On receipt of a written question or concern from a person, the local designee shall provide a written answer or response to the person within a reasonable time."

However as of nine months later, answers to the questions submitted to the local designee have yet to be received.  After prompting, only an UNSIGNED one sentence response acknowledging receipt of the email was received “I have received your request and will begin working on a response.“  However despite several further attempts to contact the "so called ombudsman” about this and the local designee's explicit statement that a response was to be provided Montgomery County has yet to respond to the questions and concerns expressed in the email nine months later.

Among the questions Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" refused to respond to were questions pertaining to "processing errors" which Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" had failed to identify when contacted by a ticket recipient:
1.4 What is the basis for concluding that your administrative review procedures are adequate to uncover errors of all types, given that the investigation by the "Local Designee" into the particular citation referenced in the attachment  "ProcessingError.pdf" was not even sufficient to notice that the citation had already been voided, or to identify that a "processing error" had taken place?   How do you know that there are not other types of errors which your procedures are inadequate to identify?
2) In at least one of the complaints provided in your MPIA response, you respond that "there is nothing in the photograph that caused radar effects or any interference with the Speed Monitoring System".  The image on the printout is not complete, but it does appear to be DARK, thus all surroundings would not be visible.  Please describe how you are able to exclude the possibility of "radar effects" being present in a nightime image where objects in the background are not clearly visible?
3) The file "Gatsolog.jpg" is one of the daily setup logs provided in the disclosure.  All steps on the log are initialed.  There were several other logs in the disclosure similar to this one and in each of those cases you deemed them to be valid.  In the log referenced in the attached "Gatsolog.jpg" [w]hat is the "Description of Task" shown on the log for step number 7 which was signed for and which you apparently examined and found to be valid?
4) On April 6, 2015, you received a request where a Motorist stated "If it is in the government's decision to move forward in this matter, I would request copies of any evidence the prosecution may have of my involvement in the "offense", as well as all maintenance records for the camera(s) involved."    I wish to make a complaint that Montgomery County's local designee apparently improperly denied a request for records by a "person in interest", stating "Because the automated speed citation is not a criminal matter, the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit is under no obligation to provide you with discovery of "records.

Question #3 referenced a log where an operator apparently "signed" that a completely BLANK step #7 was performed.  These erroneous logs were submitted as evidence in court by Montgomery County FOR YEARS, with "operators" signing these defective logs day after day.  The "Local Designee" claimed to have examined such erroneous logs on Multiple occasions and responded to ticket recipients that the logs looked valid to him.

Question #4 pertained to an instance where a motorist had requested copies of the evidence that would be presented against him in court.  The "So Called Ombudsman" for Montgomery County's speed camera program -- who at that time was Deputy Director of Traffic Lieutenant David McBaine -- had responded to this motorist that he was under no obligation to provide that information.

On Friday February 12, 2016, we submitted additional “questions and concerns” specifically citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The questions pertained to the Citizens Advisory Board for Transportation Issues – a secret board organized by the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program which does not conform to the Maryland Open Meetings Act and follows none of the practices which are followed by other Citizens Advisory Boards.  Additionally, we asked several questions regarding Montgomery County's previous failure to perform “daily setup tests” on weekends and failure to refund citations after this was revealed.  The “Ombudsman” refused to respond to any of those questions, and furthermore refused to acknowledge that he would investigate the matter.  Instead, after prompting specifically citing the wording of the Local Designee's duties under 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The "so called Ombudsman" again merely responded with an UNSIGNED email stating “I received your request and am currently working on it.  Local Designee is one of many responsibilities I have with the Department.”  However again, no response was forthcoming no response to any of our questions and concerns were received more than a month after our questions were submitted.

Furthermore, the Local Designee refused to respond to a request to identify himself or provide an answer as to when a response could be anticipated.  We noted that by refusing to sign his email, the recipients have no way of knowing whether the person responding was even the local designee at all, and that the county could thus disavow responsibility for any responses given.

On our last confirmed communication with the Local Designee, the individual with that role was David McBaine... Deputy Director of Traffic and second in command to Captain Didone.  Thus, his “other duties”, includes management responsibilities over the county's speed camera program.  Accord to the Local Deignee's own statements, these duties prevent him from providing timely answers to questions as required by law, or even untimely answers nine months later.

The "Ombudsman" also refused to respond to a question as to whether he has ever been advised not to answer questions from the Maryland Drivers Alliance.

We have noted previously that Montgomery County's “ombudsman” is actually nothing of the sort.  As second in command to Captain Didone, Lieutenant McBaine is in no way shape or form capable of acting as an independent or objective arbitrator.  In fact Montgomery County has disavowed the term "Ombudsman" several times in writing, making clear that they do not use this term to describe the role.  The former "Ombudsman" (Speed Camera program manager Richard Harrison") stated in writing "As I have stated above I am the Local Designee, not an ombudsman."  and on another instance "Ombusman is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014.  We use the term local designee."  This put in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as an "ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  

Other local governments running speed camera programs have similarly selected individuals with managerial responsibilities within speed camera programs which would prevent them from being independent arbitrators, let alone advocates for the accused.  

The Montgomery County Local Designee's failure to respond to questions or to investigate a systematic failure to perform calibration checks further proves that there is no such thing as an "Ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  Yet organizations such as the Maryland Association of Counties (MaCo) -- an organization which promotes speed cameras on behalf of local government's at taxpayer expense -- continue to claim that this role was created by recent legislation and ensures that speed camera programs are somehow now fair and that no further oversight of speed camera programs is required.  Thus MaCo continues to deliberately mislead the public about the nature of the "Local Designee", asserting that he is an impartial arbitrator and investigator of complaints when in fact he is merely a public relations spokesperson for the local government's "official position", whose real purpose is to sweep irrefutable cases of speed camera errors under the rug before the media finds out about them.

Individuals who wish to file a "question or concern" about Montgomery County's speed camera program can submit them to Local.Designee@montgomerycountymd.gov, but may get a big middle finger as a response if the answers to those questions do not fit the Montgomery County Government's narrative about speed cameras.