PALMER PARK – Despite a decrease in speed camera citation numbers in fiscal year 2014, some still question the validity of Prince George’s County’s speed camera program and the impact it is having on the communities around the county.
According to John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, the county issued 303,885 tickets in fiscal year 2014 as opposed to 360,532 in fiscal year 2013. The revenue collected, according to data from AAA, decreased from $13.1 million to $10.2 million.
As each year passes, Townsend said, automated speed cameras across the county are making school zones safer for children in Prince George’s County. Drivers are finally getting the message, he said.
“With each passing year, the automated speed camera program is making children safer in school zones in Prince George’s County. Although most drivers are slowing down and getting the message, there are still far too many motorists driving afoul and above the speed limit in school zones,” Townsend said.
According to PGPD’s Automated Enforcement Division Cpt. Dan Sheffield, from the beginning of fiscal year 2015 on July 1 up until February, the department issued 164,456 violations for speeding and brought in $5.7 million from those tickets. The Prince George’s Revenue Authority budgeted $8.9 million for the speed camera program.
Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, said he still questions the numbers the county is providing. The PGPD has their own speed camera program, Ely said, but that does not take the different municipality speed camera numbers into account.
“The numbers that are listed there are for Prince George’s County itself. That’s actually not close to all the speed cameras that are run in the county,” Ely said. “It’s deceptive to look at the county’s program but not look at the municipal programs as well. If you’re comparing what is going on in D.C. to what is going on in Prince George’s County you should be looking at the number of citations via the county and all the jurisdictions.”
Almost every municipality in the county has their own speed camera program, Ely said. If one were to include the tickets issued by municipalities, he said, then Prince George’s County has issued more speeding citations, by far, than Washington, D.C.
The city of Bowie has also seen a decline in their issued citations according to Bowie Police Deputy Chief Dwayne Preston. The city of Bowie brought in $1.04 million in revenue if fiscal year 2014 and brought in $762,000 in revenue from their speed camera program through April 28 of fiscal year 2015, according to Bowie Director of Finance Byron Matthews.
The city also saw a decrease in citations issued year by year, Preston said. In 2013, Preston said, the city issued 28,444 but in 2015 that number decreased to 26,452. As of April of 2015, he said, the city issued 6,709 in citations.
“We expect it to be a declining number year to year. That’s been the pattern since the start of the program,” Preston said. “The program is designed such that it corrects the behavior (of drivers) so we expect the number of tickets issued to decline.”
The city has eight total cameras operating daily, Preston said, with 18 possible site locations throughout the city. Xerox is the city’s vendor, he said, and they are paid on a flat monthly fee.
The city of Greenbelt issued out 14,641 citations in 2014, according to Greenbelt Police Sgt. Timothy White, and had 4,897 citations issued as of May 1. Brekford is the vendor of the speed cameras in Greenbelt, he said, and they are paid $3,500 per operational unit in the city with seven units currently operational.
Ely also said he believes the county police department has experienced a decline in citations because of increased scrutiny following the Baltimore Sun’s coverage of speed camera problems in Baltimore City. Had there not been any scrutiny because of the “bounty system” in place prior to the speed monitoring systems reform act passed last year, he said, the numbers would continue to increase.
“They know they’re under scrutiny right now because of what happened in Baltimore,” Ely said.“Because you’re calling me, they know they’re under scrutiny. They know that we’re paying attention.”
After the Baltimore Sun published a report highlighting erroneous tickets issued out within the city’s speed camera program, the state passed the speed monitoring reform act. According to the law, jurisdictions must stop paying their speed camera vendors commission on a per-ticket basis and must clarify the locations of school zones within those jurisdictions.
Optotraffic, LLC operates the county’s speed camera program. The current contract with the county went into effect in 2011 for three years and included two one-year extensions, according to Sheffield. The county is currently in their first extension year, he said. The county’s contract expires in 2016 and after that, Sheffield said, the vendor will no longer be able to be paid per citation.
CustomCal conducts the calibration of the speed cameras, Sheffield said, and Carlos Acosta, the general inspector for the PGPD, is the ombudsman for the program. Acosta has not had to handle any erroneous ticket issues because the county has examined issues and taken care of them internally, Sheffield said.
“We have been able to resolve any concern that has been brought to our attention. For example, a citizen with a Virginia tag that contained letters M and W next to each other were identified as a different vehicle owner,” Sheffield said. “The matter was reviewed and resolved. It has not been necessary for Mr. Acosta to handle any of the issues as these issues have been resolved after our reexamination of the event.”
Sheffield could not provide a number for how many erroneous tickets the county has issued, but he said it was “less than a handful.”
Still, Ely said, most jurisdictions have yet to switch operators and are still paying contractors on a per-ticket basis. Some jurisdictions will wait until 2017, he said, to make their changes and hope that residents forget about what is supposed to be done.
“There have been issues with errors in some situations and issues with calibrations in some scenarios. This per ticket arrangement gives them incentive to set lower standards,” Ely said. “They don’t want to have to draw out questionable tickets. The promise was made by state lawmakers that this act would hinder the bounty system, and so far not many jurisdictions have made good on that promise.”