8/1/2013DC, Maryland: Speed Camera Firms Move To Hide Evidence
Afraid of refunds, Washington, DC and Salisbury, Maryland conceal evidence that could reveal camera inaccuracy.
The firms operating red light cameras and speed cameras in the District of Columbia and Maryland are working to suppress evidence that could be used to prove the innocence of a photo enforcement ticket recipient. In Washington, the Arizona-based vendor American Traffic Solutions has repositioned cameras and cropped photos so that it is impossible to determine whether another object or vehicle happens to be within the radar unit's field of view.
The change is important since DC hearing adjudicators have been throwing out citations whenever another vehicle was visible, creating the possibility of a spurious radar reading (view ruling). The cropping also makes it extremely difficult to use pavement lines to perform a secondary check of the speed estimate provided by the radar. Lines painted on the road for this purpose are visible in one photo, but not the other (view first photo, view second photo). No video is provided to the vehicle owner.
The District has also recently been installing next-generation speed cameras that use infrared light instead of a visible flash when photographing vehicles. This means drivers will have no way of knowing whether they will receive a ticket until weeks after the alleged violation.
In Salisbury, Maryland, the city and its private speed camera contractor Brekford are working together to prevent the Maryland Drivers Alliance from confirming whether the photo enforcement program is in compliance with state law. There is good reason to believe it is not, as other towns that allow Brekford to issue tickets, including Greenbelt and Hagerstown, have been forced to refund illegally issued citations.
At issue is whether Brekford's cameras were properly certified under Maryland Code Section 21-809, which requires testing on an annual basis by an independent lab. The law states that the results of such testing "shall be kept on file" along with a daily setup log. The Maryland-based motoring rights group simply asked for a copy of the file. The city and camera company now insist that the group must pay $535 to the speed camera contractor for the calibration certificates and logs that the municipality is required to keep on file. These are documents that the State Highway Administration makes freely available on its website.
"In regards to this request, it is anticipated to take six total hours to gather and assemble the requested documents," Brekford wrote in a July 16 letter to the Salisbury police chief. "The first two hours will be provided without charge, however the addition four hours shall be charged at the rate of $75.00 per hour. An additional $235.00 will be charged for the copying and mailing services rendered in providing the requested information. Additionally, Brekford does not release or provide technical specifications on any of our camera systems."
The city also delayed responding to the request for thirty days, which the motorist group says is one of many violations of the state's public records laws. The refusal to provide basic specifications regarding the camera's operation is also raising eyebrows.
"Basically they are saying the public is just supposed to 'trust us' when Brekford says their equipment is of a sort which is reliable, since they are withholding all documents which describe the technology," said Ron Ely, the Maryland Drivers Alliance chairman.