Baltimore officials announced Tuesday that they have suspended the city's troubled speed camera program amid fresh reports of erroneous tickets, this time involving a new multimillion-dollar camera network.
The Baltimore Sun found that a recently installed camera on The Alameda has wrongly issued tickets, citing motorists for exceeding a 25 mph limit when the posted limit is 30 mph.
The development is a setback for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's goal of achieving a "zero error" program, announced after The Sun documented widespread problems with the city's automated enforcement system last year.
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City officials said Tuesday, after receiving inquiries from The Sun, that the city was temporarily halting all speed and red-light camera tickets "due to complications that arose during the transition to our new vendor." They said they made the decision Monday.
The driver advocacy group AAA Mid-Atlantic applauded the move.
"In light of these recent issues, we believe that suspending the city's automated enforcement program is the appropriate action for them to take," said Ragina Averella, the group's public and government affairs manager. "Until the city and contractor can determine the scope and magnitude of these issues, suspending the program is the only responsible thing to do."
The erroneous tickets on The Alameda are the first indication of problems since the city revamped its troubled program by bringing on board a new vendor, replacing all 83 of its radar-based speed cameras at a cost to the city of $2.2 million and overhauling a Police Department review process criticized as lax.
"I'm appalled," said Kathryn Falcone, a city resident whose car wrongly got two tickets from the camera four days apart last month. "It doesn't seem like there is any oversight at all."
The problems surfaced after staffing changes in the city's speed camera program and amid calls from state lawmakers for the city to voluntarily adopt elements of speed camera legislation that died in the final moments of the General Assembly session earlier this month.
The camera that has erroneously been issuing tickets sits in the 3900 block of The Alameda. The Sun obtained from motorists three citations that should not have been issued last month because the cars were clocked going less than 12 mph over the actual speed limit — the threshold at which camera tickets can be given under state law.
"Somebody dropped the ball big-time," said Ed Donnellan, a city resident who was cited March 29 for going 38 mph. "It raises questions in my mind about the real purpose of this. Is it to make the city safe for children in school zones, or is it just a flat-out money grab?"
Both of Falcone's tickets alleged she was traveling 39 mph in the 30 mph zone.
City transportation officials said Wednesday that 590 tickets were issued by the Alameda camera and that all will be voided or refunded without motorists having to do anything. Officials have not provided other information, such as how long that camera was in operation and when the city first became aware of problems there.
A Rawlings-Blake spokesman did not reply to a request for comment. A message left with the city's new vendor, Brekford Corp., which is paid $11.20 of each $40 citation fine, was not returned.
In recent weeks, city officials had sought to assure state lawmakers that Baltimore has improved its program, which has generated more than $48 million in fines since 2009. A Sun investigation last year found that seven cameras had logged erroneous speed readings, city judges routinely threw out tickets on appeal and police officers approved as many as six citations a minute.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose district includes the stretch of The Alameda where the camera in question is positioned, expressed concern about the recent erroneous citations.
"I emphatically will request that this camera be checked and incorrect tickets be voided automatically," she said. She planned to ask the city to send a receipt to anyone who received an erroneous citation, "so they don't have to go through any hassles to reach somebody or go to court."
Clarke, speaking before the suspension was announced, also wondered if similar problems existed with any of the other new cameras that the city and Brekford have been rolling out since January.
"If this one is not [correct], are others incorrect as well?" she said. "Are we getting ready for another round of invalid tickets? They need to double-check all these new cameras for setting them wrong. Let's just hope this is the one exception to the rule of being careful."
Since 2009 the city has voided well over a thousand tickets issued by cameras set with the wrong speed limit. Those included three cameras on Northern Parkway and one on Cold Spring Lane.