Balto. Co. speed camera tickets drop

accidents stable

Report comes before consideration of bill to remove limit of 15 cameras

January 28, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County speed camera tickets have dropped by half since August, but the number of accidents remains the same, according to a Police Department review of data collected since the traffic enforcement program has been in place.

The department reviewed about five months of data in the report, released weeks before a vote by the County Council to increase the number beyond the 15 allowed now.

The number of citations varies widely among the 15 sites. Approximately 53,000 tickets have been issued at the sites — all county cameras are in school zones — since July, the first full month that all cameras were in place. Tickets were not issued at all sites until August.

The number of weekly citations overall dropped from 4,180 to 2,155 between Aug. 2 and Dec. 20.

Six of the 15 locations had more traffic accidents within a quarter-mile radius last year compared with previous years; eight had fewer. One had the same amount. Camera locations averaged 31 accidents per site before and after they were activated.

The council is expected to repeal the cap on the number of cameras at its Feb. 7 meeting. More staff would be needed depending on the number of additional cameras, the report noted.

More cameras are part of a broader plan to make the county more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, said Councilman Tom Quirk, the lead sponsor.

"For just five months, it's pretty clear evidence that they're effective," he said. "As long as they pay for themselves, there should be no issue."

Ron Ely, editor of the website StopBigBrotherMD.org, which opposes speed carmeras, was sharply critical of the crash data.

"It seemed to me that they issued 53,000 tickets and accomplished nothing except padding their contractor's wallet since there was no change in the accident rate," Ely said.

More than 35,420 fines have been collected, generating $1.4 million. Most of that money covered $1.1 million in contract costs with vendor Affiliated Computer Services Inc. Revenue can only be used for the program costs from a restricted account in the police budget. Any additional revenue is limited to public safety projects such as technology/equipment enhancements, capital needs and staffing.

From August to November, Woodlawn High School generated the highest number of citations — 4,647 — and Lansdowne High School produced the fewest at 226. Five other sites in addition to Woodlawn topped the 3,000 mark while eight sites in addition to Lansdowne generated fewer than 1,000 tickets.

More than 3,000 potential violations were rejected because of technical problems.

Speed indicator signs would have had a better effect, Ely said.

"It's better if they control things with a traffic engineering solution instead of treating everything as a law enforcement problem," he said. "There's a real presumption of guilt with speed cameras. You have no ability to face a human accuser."

Cameras can be placed in school or work zones under county law. Additional requests have come from Stoneleigh and Baltimore Highlands elementary schools, and Deer Park Middle School. Council members Cathy A. Bevins, Kenneth N. Oliver and John Olszewski Sr. have joined Quirk in sponsoring the legislation.

Oliver said he would have preferred to see a year's worth of data.

"I think six months is kind of short," Oliver said. "I will use the data to make a decision because we have a bill [pending], but I'd personally rather have a year."

The report also noted that a full-time supervisor is needed and that the two cadets currently on staff could handle a 50 percent increase in camera sites. Other recommendations include installing mobile cameras to better respond to changing traffic safety needs, more frequent website updates — it hasn't been updated since October 2009 — and using standardized criteria and a review committee to improve site selection.

A memorandum from county Budget Director Keith Dorsey estimates another $401,500 was spent over the first year in "additional indirect costs for this contract," for staff time from the police, traffic engineering, and budget and finance departments, as well as material and equipment.

"These figures do not include extensive contract management costs the Office of Budget & Finance has incurred in reviewing invoices, statistical analysis and overall performance management of the contract," Dorsey wrote.

The first two sites were activated in March at Arbutus and Dundalk elementary schools.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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