Daily Dispatches
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Speed trap flap snares Baltimore officials

Government

City officials in Baltimore are playing defense after a newly leaked audit suggested the city’s speed cameras have issued thousands of erroneous tickets. On a random day in 2012, over 10 percent of the tickets issued by 37 speed cameras were erroneous, according to the audit obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Another 26 percent of the tickets were questionable.

Considering the city issued 700,000 speed camera tickets in fiscal year 2012, each at $40, the total amount of wrongly levied fines could be worth $2.8 million.

Although the city received a private copy of the audit in April 2013 and subsequently shut down the camera network, officials had publicly maintained that less than one quarter of 1 percent of the readings from the city’s 83 cameras were inaccurate, according to The Sun. The city refused to release the taxpayer-funded audit to the public or to City Council members, citing a confidentiality agreement with the private collection agency that operated the cameras between 2009 and 2012.

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The newspaper, however, obtained a leaked copy of the audit and reported the results on Wednesday. In response, city officials pointed out they shut down the camera network after receiving the report, and refunded tickets they believed were incorrect. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office released a statement Thursday calling the audit an “inconclusive report that does not reflect any final conclusions about the accuracy of the speed camera program.”

During the timeframe reviewed by the audit, the city’s camera network was operated by Phoenix-based Xerox State & Local Solutions, a company with a current “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. In February 2013, the city hired URS Corp. to review the accuracy of the cameras during the previous year.

Under Xerox’s watch, some of the cameras were abysmally inaccurate. One camera east of downtown had a 45 percent error rate. Another, on the north side, was incorrect 58 percent of the time, according to the audit.

“It’s outrageous,” City Councilman Carl Stokes told The Sun. “No, it’s beyond outrageous. Who ever heard of a secret audit? We should have told the public immediately.”

While thanking city officials for shutting down the program, the newspaper’s editors on Friday excoriated them for keeping the report secret: “This episode casts doubts on City Hall’s credibility generally. Secrecy has a way of doing that.”

The city apparently still plans to move forward with a revamped speed camera program that would supersede the one shut down in April.

In light of the audit findings, AAA Mid-West, a travelers association, called on other Maryland jurisdictions to audit the accuracy of their own speed cameras.

Twelve states, including Maryland, have speed camera programs in effect, in addition to the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Twelve more states have outlawed speed cameras in most situations.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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