Since the fall of 2012, the use of cameras for the enforcement of jurisdictional speed limits on roads and highways has been closely scrutinized.
In particular, the speed camera program operated by the City of Baltimore has been dogged by numerous issues including:
- the presence of many faulty or incorrectly calibrated cameras that issue erroneous tickets;
- a lack of reliable human oversight of the program
- placement of cameras outside of school zones (in violation of existing state speed camera laws); and
- a lack of clarity in the actual tickets issued to violators, making it virtually impossible for individuals to have verifiable proof that they were indeed speeding.
Similar concerns have been raised regarding speed cameras used in Baltimore and Howard counties, as well as those used on interstate highways by the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Even more fundamentally, the manner in which local jurisdictions have structured their speed camera programs—specifically the compensation scheme for outside contractors whose software and equipment carry out enforcement—raises difficult issues as to the real purpose of these programs.
Camera programs in most localities in Maryland utilize a "bounty" system whereby contractors are paid a portion of the proceeds collected from each individual speed camera traffic ticket that is issued. Here in Baltimore County, speed camera vendor Xerox State & Local Solutions receives about $19 of the total $40 fine received from each citation issued by its cameras.
As it happens, the 2009 speed camera program enabling legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly contained a provision that says "if a contractor operates a speed camera system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."
Unfortunately, our county and others have attempted to justify their violation of this common-sense language by saying that the government agencies actually operate the cameras, and not the vendors. This is simply ludicrous given that, without vendor support, these speed camera systems could not function.
Just last week, a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge concurred. Judge Susan Souder wrote, "The fees paid to Xerox on a per-citation basis violate" Maryland law. She made this determination based on language from Baltimore County's contract with Xerox that indicated "the contractor will operate 22 active speed cameras and 15 active red light cameras at all times."
I suppose that the only way one could view this language as being in harmony with state law would be by assigning a different definition to the word "operate."
Like many, I do not have an inherent objection to a the use of cameras for enforcement of traffic laws, provided that we as citizens are assured that the program is actually about public safety, and not just a move to grab money out of our wallets.
The fact that Baltimore County's system is structured so as to financially incentivize the issuance of as many speeding tickets as possible make its easy to argue that these cameras are really meant to make as much money as possible for the vendor and the county government.
Recently, Governor Martin O'Malley noted that "the law says you're not supposed to charge by volume. I don't think we should charge by volume. If any county is, they need to change their program." I could not agree more with this sentiment.
The citizens of Baltimore County need to have confidence that we are using speed cameras for the right reasons. If our government is unwilling to restructure its program to offer us greater assurance of the integrity of the system, then we must demand that the system itself be shut down.
- Five New Speed Camera Sites Selected
- Council Weighs Bill Expanding Speed Camera Enforcement
- Speed Cameras: Less Speeding, Same Accidents
- Marks: Speed Camera Not Retribution for Vote
- Seven Courts Speed Camera Spray-Painted, Vandalized
- Quirk Calls for More Speed Cameras
- Poll Shows Public Support for Speed Cameras
- Marks Will Vote Against Speed Camera Expansion
- County Extends Speed Camera Contract Without Bid