10/2/2008Maryland County Sets Quota for Speed Camera Tickets
Montgomery County, Maryland continues to pay speed camera vendor a per-ticket bonus payment in violation of state law.
Cities in Montgomery County, Maryland continue to operate under a ticket quota arrangement despite a state law explicitly prohibiting the practice. Last year, Affiliated Computer Services began operating a suite of fixed and mobile photo radar units to generate millions in revenue within the county on behalf of Chevy Chase Village and the cities of Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park. Contract documents specify each individual photo enforcement device must generate no fewer than 2220 paid motorist citations per year, or the private company operating the system may face financial sanction. Even though the Washington Times revealed the questionable arrangement in March, spawning a lawsuit, the city of Takoma Park became the latest to adopt a contingent fee speed camera contract with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS).
"The contractor shall be compensated under this agreement at a rate of $16.25 per paid citation or $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for the program, as defined in the Montgomery County contract, whichever is greater," Takoma Park's contract, approved September 22, states. "If the total of the city's paid citation revenues are less than $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for two consecutive months or for any two months in a six-month period during the term of this agreement or any renewals, the contractor and the city agree to renegotiate in good faith, and revise as necessary, the per citation rate and/or the monthly minimum compensation payable to contractor under this agreement."
A renegotiation would mean a reduction in the amount of money that ACS would be allowed to keep for every citation issued. If ACS refused to agree to this financial punishment or the city became upset by the lack of revenue, the city could drop the program entirely within thirty days. Gaithersburg adopted an identical provision in August. Both cities appear to be in violation of the 2006 state law authorizing speed cameras in Montgomery County.
"If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid," Maryland Code Section 21-809 states (view law).
In May, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) defended the ticketing program, saying the per-ticket payments were found to be "within both the letter and spirit of the law" after review by county and state legal experts. This is so, Leggett explained, because the anti-quota law would only apply if ACS "operated" the program.
"In Montgomery County, the vendor does not operate the speed monitoring system," Leggett said in a Townhall meeting. "The Police Department (MCPD) identifies areas of enforcement, level of enforcement, operates the cameras, and authorizes the issuance of all citations. The vendor operates the back office portion of this program. Their actions are reviewed and approved by the police department. The contract is currently up for renewal and MCPD is investigating an alternative way of paying the vendor to eliminate even the appearance of a problem with the payment system."
Five months later, the county is still allowing ACS to pocket $16.25 each time a motorist sends in payment for a speed camera citation. If, as Leggett suggests, the police "operate" the speed camera program, the system runs afoul of a separate 2006 law banning ticket quotas.
"'Quota' means the mandating of a finite number of... citations issued that a law enforcement officer must meet in a specified time period," the law states (view law). "A law enforcement agency may not establish a formal or informal quota."
Last year, Montgomery County speed cameras generated $7.2 million worth of citations. The StopBigBrotherMD website tracks developments in the county's program.
"I'm amazed that the county continues to defend this contract arrangement," the site's editor told TheNewspaper. "Combining the legally questionable per-ticket payments to ACS with what looks like a minimum quota for the contractor is rather brazen. It seems like local government officials are starting to openly discuss the virtue of using speed cameras to generate revenue."
Governor Martin O'Malley (D) wants to expand Montgomery County's program statewide, allowing ticketing on any high-volume road regardless of speed limit. He also is pushing for the use of speed cameras on freeways. Currently, the county is only allowed to issue citations on commuter roads with speed limits of 35 MPH or less.