Balto. Co. speed camera increase moving forward despite concerns

Bill expected to win approval

February 01, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

A move to bring more speed cameras to Baltimore County will likely go forward next week amid concerns from residents, and without the support of Republican lawmakers.

The Baltimore County Council heard from a handful of residents at Tuesday's work session, most of whom were opposed to adding more speed cameras.

The 15 county-operated cameras are all in school zones. Tickets have dropped by half since August, but the number of accidents remains the same, according to a recent report by county police.

A bill sponsored by four council members to allow an unlimited number of cameras is scheduled for a vote on Feb. 7.

Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. said he will introduce an amendment to allow mobile cameras to give police more flexibility in addressing traffic safety problems, and he expects the bill to pass. Republican council members Todd Huff and David Marks said they will oppose the bill.

Speakers said the report's findings do not justify the county's expenses.

"Baltimore County is on the losing side of those numbers," said Patrick Rooney, a retired county police officer, noting that two-thirds of the cameras don't generate enough tickets to match their monthly $11,000 cost.

Cameras are not as effective as police officers using radar to determine excessive speed, said Michael Cole, a retired state trooper. "You always observe your traffic before you turn on your radar to verify what you saw," Cole said. "You never look at a speed on a radar and find a vehicle that matches it."

Other speakers said the cameras alone will not change drivers' behavior. Citations generally increased around the holidays when drivers thought the cameras were inactive since school was not in session.

"If the behavior constantly returns when you take the cameras away, maybe we need to put another enforcement mentality out there, or maybe there needs to be some live officers out there doing traffic enforcement," said Mike Pappas, who lives in Phoenix and made a brief bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination last year.

However, parents Ilene Cohen and Marty Haggerty said they were strongly in favor of more cameras if that would help to alleviate speeding near their children's schools.

Haggerty said he routinely sees people driving 70 miles per hour in school zones near his Catonsville home. His children have almost been hit twice by speeding cars, neighbors have acted as safety patrols and additional police monitoring has not resolved the issue, he said.

"This is literally a safety issue," not a revenue issue, Haggerty said. "This provides a 24-hour, in lieu of a person, [way] to monitor traffic."

Marks said he does not support using mobile cameras and that going from 15 cameras to an unlimited number is too big of a jump. Huff said he's been against speed cameras since they were introduced two years ago.

"I'm all for safety of the kids — I've got two kids in elementary school — but when you've got data sitting there showing you there's no change in accidents, then where's the safety value?" said Huff, adding that he would like to put more money towards enhancing police car radars and putting more patrols on the street.

Olszewski said that he respects Huff's and Marks' views, but "from my perspective it's about safety and it's about protecting kids, particularly in school zones."

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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