Last March, Baltimore issued a speed camera ticket to a bus company after one of its yellow buses was clocked going 42 mph on Harford Road. But the city voided that $40 citation after concluding the vehicle’s actual speed was just 26 mph — below the 30 mph limit.
That erroneous ticket is among a number of problems that city transportation officials knew about but did not disclose publicly when they suspended the speed and red-light camera program last April, according to internal city documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
The documents come to light as the City Council presses Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to turn over reams of records to a council committee investigating the troubled camera program, which operated from 2009 until last April.
While The Sun has documented problems that a consultant found during an off-line test phase last summer, most of the issues identified in the leaked records have not been made public.
In April, transportation officials blamed the shutdown on “complications that arose during the transition” to Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County as it took over from a prior contractor, while giving just two specific reasons: One camera had been programmed with an incorrect speed limit, and citations listed the wrong P.O. box in the payment mailing address.
But the documents obtained by The Sun show that the city had deeper concerns by the time officials pulled the plug. A Department of Transportation report has a page titled “Baltimore City’s issues with Brekford prior to suspension.”
In addition to the misprogrammed camera and inaccurate P.O. box, the report notes that about 100 tickets were issued with “repeated images and timestamps,” making them invalid. There were also “a few erroneous citations,” including one that showed two different cars in the pair of photos meant to show a speeding vehicle’s movement.
The same document stated that Brekford’s data “had continuous errors, missing or transposed information,” that information in the company’s system “keeps changing” and that 474 red light camera tickets somehow appeared in the system as speed camera tickets.
A separate PowerPoint presentation showed that as of April 15 — a day before the city announced the camera program’s suspension — city officials had noticed discrepancies in Brekford’s own data.
The issue was noted again in a May 7 memo marked “privileged and confidential” and addressed to Rawlings-Blake and top aides. It said the Department of Transportation “expressed a lack of confidence in the Brekford data due to 30,000 events missing from iP360 reports,” it said. Brekford’s system is called iP360. Every time a camera records a car it’s considered an event.
The memo, from the CitiStat office, said transportation officials “worked with Brekford to obtain the missing events.”
Another document shows Brekford got off to an inauspicious start when its cameras began issuing speeding tickets in early 2013. Its first 57 citations were mailed more than 14 days after the violations, making them invalid under a state law that requires mailing within two weeks.
Late last year the city agreed to pay Brekford $600,000 to terminate its contract. The city also paid Brekford $2.2 million for 72 speed cameras that officials don’t expect to use for speed enforcement. Officials say they might be able to use the devices for traffic studies.
Brekford officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The council committee investigating the speed camera program is seeking hundreds of pages of reports, contracts and financial material, including the type of documents obtained by The Sun.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the documents obtained by The Sun show the administration “being vigilant in its oversight of the program and asking the tough questions citizens would expect us to ask when something didn’t add up.”
“This document is consistent with what we have always said about problems with the program and again shows that when presented with full and complete information, we didn’t sweep the problems under the rug,” he said. “Instead we acted to hold people accountable so the City had a full accounting of what was going on with the program. As a result, the city is much more prepared to provide more efficient oversight of any future program.”
Harris said there was no effort to hide more extensive details of problems.
“When we spoke about complications from the transition, these are the types of things we were referencing,” he said. “We just wanted to provide the public with a sense of the types of problems that were encountered, resulting in a need to end the program, and thought those examples explained the challenges the best.”