Committee investigating speed camera audit to meet next week

Rawlings-Blake spokesman calls the audit 'incomplete and inconclusive'

  • As 2013 began, Baltimore officials were trying to fix a troubled speed camera system. A Sun investigation had found that some cameras had been issuing faulty tickets and that government officials knew about it. The system — once among the largest on the continent — has been offline since April and will likely remain mothballed for months, officials said.  The absence of the once-lucrative program has left a budget shortfall. Baltimore anticipated $14.4 million in fines that never materialized, a gap only partially offset by not having to make about $4 million in payments to contractor Brekford Corp.  Brekford replaced original contractor Xerox State & Local Solutions, which acknowledged last year that several city cameras had an error rate of around 5 percent. The new vendor said it could only reduce those mistakes by replacing the cameras with newer models.  But by April, the city halted the new system. The Sun had found that a camera on The Alameda was citing motorists for exceeding a 25 mph limit when the posted limit is 30 mph. Soon after, local officials said they would throw out more than 6,000 appealed speed camera tickets because Xerox stopped showing up in court to defend them.  After tests showed the system sometimes produced inaccurate speed readings and listed incorrect information about paying a citation, the city said in December that it plans to pay Brekford $600,000 to end its five-year contract.
As 2013 began, Baltimore officials were trying to fix a troubled… (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore…)
January 28, 2014|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

A City Council committee investigating a secret audit of Baltimore's speed camera system will begin its work next week.

The Judiciary Committee will meet at 11 a.m. next Tuesday to determine how to proceed, officials said. Committee Chairman James Kraft said it was too early to say whether Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake or other top City Hall officials would be called to testify.

"I intend to summon whomever we need to answer our questions and/or explain produced documents, etc.," Kraft said in an email. "At this time, it is too early to say exactly who those persons will be. I cannot exclude anyone at this time either."

The council decided Monday to investigate the circumstances surrounding the audit — which administration officials received in April — and why the administration withheld it and other documents from the public. The Baltimore Sun reported the findings of the never-released audit last week. Consultant URS Corp. evaluated the camera system as run by Xerox Sate and Local Solutions in 2012 and found an error rate of more than 10 percent — 40 times higher than city officials have claimed.

Council members said they would seek to determine who in the Rawlings-Blake administration knew about the audit's findings and when they knew it. Members said they would demand all documents prepared by URS regarding the city's speed and red light camera program.

For the audit, URS looked at a sample of nearly 1,000 tickets from 37 of the city's 83 speed cameras issued on a random day in May 2012. The firm said it could vouch for the accuracy of about only 64 percent of tickets. More than 10 percent were found to be in error. Another 26 percent were described as questionable.

While 13 cameras had double-digit error rates, 12 had no errors, the audit found. In all, the firm found errors in tickets issued by 25 of the cameras analyzed.

Xerox was the city's speed camera vendor from September 2009 through 2012. The audit, which the city commissioned early in 2013, represented a look back at the performance under Xerox. The city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 drivers would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.

Rawlings-Blake's spokesman, Kevin Harris, has called the study "incomplete and inconclusive."

"The mayor is confident that any further review will only determine what we have always said which is that the URS review was an incomplete and inconclusive document which only reviewed a handful of citations for only one day for a program that spanned three years," he said in an email. "This would be the equivalent of a professor only grading a partial fraction of the examines over the course of a semester and then issuing a final grade."

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