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As Long as We Remember...

August 15, 2012

Greed Cameras: Two Approaches

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Both Westminster and Frederick have taken a hard look at red light cameras in recent months and came to two very different conclusions.


Everyone is aware that speeders and red light runners kill innocent people. If the cameras can save your life, or that of a loved one, friend, or neighbor, then what’s the problem?


The problem is that for families who are struggling to keep the lights on and fill the car with gas, the idea of getting a citation in the mail, days after the fact – and being considered guilty before one proves they are innocent – is seen as just one more manifestation of a predatory government run amok.


The random and unexpected enigmatic citation from a computer-driven camera, Big Brother, if you will, that just appears in the mail – certainly does not foster a constructive and positive relationship between citizens and the police. It conjures-up visions of a futuristic science fiction dystopia complete with interactions with third-world police departments with no checks or balances.


This distrust is only exacerbated by increased reports of computer glitches generating erroneous tickets. It also violates a basic precept in American jurisprudence of having the opportunity to face your accuser.


A March 2006 editorial in The Capital, the Annapolis newspaper, noted a fall 2005 Washington Post “analysis of red-light camera use in the District of Columbia, where such devices have totted up more than 500,000 violations and $32 million in fines in six years.”


The analysis found that “the number of accidents at intersections with the cameras was going up at either the same rate – or a faster rate – than at intersections without the cameras. There was no evidence the cameras were preventing collisions or injuries.”


At the July 9 meeting of the Westminster Mayor and Common Council, the number of red light cameras in the city was reduced to one…


In Frederick, according to a short news brief August 3, in The Frederick News-Post, “Red light contract gets green light,” “The Board of Alderman approved a 90-day contract to turn the red light cameras back on immediately during a special meeting Friday.


“Alderman Kelly Russell had called for the meeting of the Mayor and Board of Alderman...


“She said in a telephone interview that waiting to approve the five-year contract puts the public at risk…”


Candidly, I’m not buying the suggestion that “waiting to approve the five-year contract puts “the public at risk.” I recall well the discussion of Item #3 of former-Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty’s March 11, 2003, ‘budget letter’ for her presentation of the proposed FY 2004 budget to the Board of Aldermen, she wrote:


“Other possible additions to our revenue stream are the “Red Light Camera” and the “Speed Radar Cameras” (SB 455/HB 694). If we choose to pursue and adopt these options, our primary purpose must be to improve public safety not to raise money. Neighbors have often complained about “raceways” and “drag strips” that exist in our neighborhoods, this could be a way to enforce our City speed limits, protect neighborhood safety, and augment public safety budgets. There is no mistake, however, that we will be able to generate revenue if the “camera” technology is adopted.”


According to a July 21 Frederick News-Post article, “City delays red-light camera extension,” the Frederick red-light camera “program has been a success since the first cameras were installed in 2005,” says Lt. Jason Keckler, commander of the department's community services division.”


In stark contrast with Westminster, which is reducing the number of operational red light cameras, Frederick is taking an $11 reduction in the amount of money it makes from of each ticket generated by the system and “plans to install more cameras in the city…,” says the News-Post.


“Under the current agreement, the city gets $44 of each $75 citation issued from any of the seven red-light camera intersections. The rest goes to the company, which installs and monitors the equipment.


“The new agreement called for the city to get a $33 cut from each ticket issued at locations with upgraded cameras.


“The increased share to the company was to install newer technology at the current locations …, Frederick police Lt. Jason Keckler said.”


Although the recent kerfuffle over the red-light cameras in Frederick was over the bidding process, the efficacy of the cameras in Frederick has not played the role in the decision-making as it has in Westminster.


Five red light cameras were first installed in Westminster at MD Routes 140 and 97, in the winter of 2010 and became operational on March 1, 2010.


According to an article written in the July 12 edition of the Carroll Eagle, the Carroll County section of the Baltimore Sun, “Westminster turns off pair of red light cameras…:” “Two of those initial five cameras … were eliminated after one year because police determined there were very few violations...”


However, WJZ-TV Channel 13 provided a broader insight into the recent Westminster decision, on July 11, “Westminster Deactivating Most Red Light Cameras On Concerns They’re Causing Accidents.”


“Westminster is putting a stop to most of their red-light cameras. Police say they may have been causing more accidents than they were preventing…


“These cameras were not in a break-even mode. They were literally costing the city taxpayers money,” Chief Jeff Spaulding, of the Westminster Police Department, said.


“They were meant to make the intersection safer and generate revenue, but police say they did neither. In the two years they’ve been up, police say there were 11 serious crashes and 35 fender benders.”


My view is that advocates for red light and speeding cameras still need to make their case. I’ve always found the “greed cameras” to be much more about raising money for local government than traffic safety.


… I’m just saying


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