LANHAM – Speed cameras are continuing to bring in increasing revenue for Prince George’s County and several local municipalities, but according to AAA Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions should start to see the number of citations issued plateau as motorists change their driving behavior. According to data provided by AAA and the Prince George’s County Police Department, […]
LANHAM – Speed cameras are continuing to bring in increasing revenue for Prince George’s County and several local municipalities, but according to AAA Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions should start to see the number of citations issued plateau as motorists change their driving behavior.
According to data provided by AAA and the Prince George’s County Police Department, the county’s 72 speed cameras issued 339,802 citations in fiscal year 2012, and generated $8.4 million. After vendor and programming costs of $3.5 million, the county retained $4.9 million. In 2013 the number of citations increased to 360,548 in 2013, resulting in revenue of $13.1 million. Vendor and program costs totaled $5.35 million and the county retained $7.7 million, an increase of 36 percent from the previous year.
As of March 31, the county’s cameras have issued 220,019 citations. The county’s office of management and budget has projected revenue of $10 million in 2014, and $9 million for 2015.
Major Robert Liberati of the Prince George’s County Police Department said the county has 143 locations it may operate cameras—all located in school zones—and there are no plans to increase the number of locations. The county has 66 trailer cameras which use laser detection to calculate speed and six boxes which use radar.
The county reached its highest point of issued citations in Sept. 2012 with 50,000 citations, according to Liberati, but now the county issues about 19,000 per month. Liberati said the goal of the program is to get drivers to slow down, not generate revenue.
“If we are not issuing violations then we know people are slowing down,” Liberati said. “If (the cameras) get (drivers) to slow down then that’s what matters.”
Within the county, municipalities are seeing mixed results. According to AAA’s analysis, the number of speed camera tickets in Laurel and Bowie has decreased by 74 percent.
Bowie issued 108,798 tickets in 2011, according to the analysis, but the number dropped to 45,770 in 2012. The number decreased even further to 28,267 speed camera citations by FY13.
According to the proposed 2015 budget for Bowie, the city collected $2.86 million from fines in 2012. In 2013 the city collected $1.5 million and it is projected to collect $975,600 by the end of fiscal year 2014.
“Some jurisdictions are experiencing a downward spiral in the number of speeding infractions and a concomitant drop in speed camera revenues,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “As the violation rate drops and profits dip, area officials and their speed camera vendors must not yield to the temptation to expand the program in the name of safety for the sake of revenue.”
In Prince George’s County, 63.5 percent of the revenue the cameras generate goes to the vendor—Optotraffic, LLC, according to Liberati.
Currently, the program has two fulltime employees and one civilian information technology manager. The program also uses off-duty officers to conduct reviews of each citation.
In addition to having the cameras calibrated annually, Liberati said the department tests its cameras by driving cruisers in front of the cameras and matching its readings with handheld radar guns and the vehicle’s speedometer.
“We are not required to this by law,” Liberati said, “but we do it anyway.”
One of the main problems opponents, such as the online blog the Maryland Drivers Alliance, have with speed cameras is they issue erroneous tickets. Liberati could not provide a number of how many erroneous tickets the program has issued, but said the department minimizes errors by limiting officers to two hours of review time and looking at how many citations each officer is approving.
“If we see an officer is approving too many we know we may have a problem,” Liberati said.
However, Liberati said errors still sometimes occur because nothing is 100 percent.
“Humans make mistakes,” he said.
Earlier this year the General Assembly passed a speed camera program reform bill. The bill requires jurisdictions to have an ombudsman and no longer allows jurisdictions to pay vendors on a per-citation basis.
To meet the requirements of the law, Liberati said county inspector general Carlos Acosta will be the ombudsman. Liberati also said the county has until 2017 to stop paying Optotraffic on a per-ticket basis. The county’s contract ends before then, he said, so the county will have to bid out a new contract which pays the vendor by leasing equipment or in some other way.
Despite changes, Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, said on his blog the legislation passed by the General Assembly still provides loopholes to the so-called “bounty system” and fails to provide oversight of jurisdictions’ speed camera programs.
“Make no mistake, two years from now most speed camera programs in the state will still be paying their contractors based on the number of tickets, something the public was told when Maryland’s speed camera law was first passed would not be allowed in the first place,” Ely said. “The bill provides no actual oversight of local speed camera programs, and leaves the public with no choice but to trust every municipality in the state to be responsible and competent–even those which have proven time and again that they are not. It writes into law that contractors can issue up to 5 percent of citations in error, which for a program the size of Montgomery County’s or Baltimore’s would allow many thousands of errors per year.”