Improving red-light system

Getting control: Baltimore should get with the region for its camera-enforcement program.

September 10, 2001

BALTIMORE is way out of the loop with its red-light camera system.

Three area counties have come together in a regional approach that reduces citizen concerns that private firms motivated by profit will decide where to place cameras and how to issue tickets.

Baltimore isn't part of the regional center in Columbia, and that's dangerous.

The city doesn't want to end up like San Diego, where two courts have ruled that its red-light camera system gave the private operator too much sway. Critics charged that profits drove the program. San Diego shut down its system in June.

Granted, Baltimore isn't in immediate danger of having its camera shutters closed; there are key differences between the cities' systems.

In Baltimore, red-light violations draw $75 civil fines instead of the $271 criminal charges that San Diego issued. And there's no evidence here that yellow-light cycles are mischievously shortened at camera-patrolled intersections.

But Baltimore has limited authority over its own system. A police officer reviews every citation generated by snapshots, but Lockheed does everything else.

A better model for the city is the Regional Automated Enforcement Center, which is run by the Howard County Police Department, which pioneered the use of red-light cameras in the area. The center houses the Baltimore and Arundel county programs, as well.

The system isn't perfect. Local jurisdictions should negotiate a joint contract with camera operators.

But their method of working together helps ensure the cameras exist for enforcement, not profits, under the close scrutiny of a government agency.

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