Speed camera

This is the new speed camera on Guilford Avenue near Federal Street, which is a few blocks south of North Avenue. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / March 18, 2013)

In the latest sign of turmoil for Baltimore's speed camera program, city officials are moving to sever ties with the vendor amid unresolved problems — an action that could idle the city's already mothballed speed and red-light camera system until the middle of next year.

Sources familiar with discussions between the city and Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County said officials have grown increasingly frustrated with Brekford's mistakes in trying to revive the program, once North America's largest and the source of $50 million to the city since 2009 from speed cameras alone.

Tests by the city have shown that 11 months after Brekford took over, the system is still troubled by inaccurate speed readings, incorrect addresses and tickets listing wrong information on how to pay a citation, city officials have said. Now officials are working to end the five-year contract, the sources said.

Brekford officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, acknowledged that the administration was in "ongoing" discussions with the firm.

This would be the second time in less than a year that the city has parted ways with a speed camera vendor. Its previous contractor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, departed at the end of 2012, amid a Baltimore Sun investigation that documented erroneous speed readings from several cameras.

Brekford operated its camera system for less than two months before the city shut it down in April. Given that the network has been offline now for seven months, City Councilman William H. Cole IV said Friday that the city should consider doing away with the cameras permanently.

"If we've lived this long without [the cameras]," he said, "naturally the question is: Do we need to rush into finding a way to replace them, or do we evaluate if they're even needed?"

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young recently learned that the speed camera program under Brekford probably could not be salvaged, said his spokesman, Lester Davis.

"He just found out the city was looking to cut ties with Brekford," Davis said. "He's disappointed. It's the prerogative of the administration to go into a different direction if that's in the best interest of citizens. When the program is down and not functioning, you have safety at risk and a loss of revenue. We have a system that's not functioning and not going to be functioning for some time."

Assuming officials decide to stick with speed cameras, severing the contract with Brekford would force the city to start a new vendor search, a lengthy process that would continue to deprive the city of anticipated revenue from fines and what transportation officials consider important safety benefits.

The city had been counting on the cameras to generate $15.8 million during the fiscal year that runs through June: $11.2 million from $40 speed camera citations and $4.6 million from $75 red-light camera tickets. The city budget does not say how much of that would have gone to Brekford. The company was to get a share of every ticket paid — $11.20 per speed camera ticket.

The mayor has said she plans to make up for any lost revenue through "general belt-tightening," not cuts to any specific service.

The Sun investigation last year documented inaccurate tickets issued by cameras around the city, including the case of a motorist accused of speeding while stopped at a red light. Xerox acknowledged that five of its cameras had an error rate of about 5 percent, prompting the city to take those cameras offline.

Rawlings-Blake convened a task force to study the automated enforcement program, including accuracy rates and management performance. Upon hiring Brekford, which took over the system Jan. 1, both city and company officials promised to cut down on errors.

"We're going to pay attention to quality control," Brekford executive Maurice Nelson said at the time.

But lobbyists for Xerox warned that Brekford was too small and lacked experience running a system of Baltimore's size, which had more than 150 automated cameras. Before winning the city's contract, Brekford had operated 12 speed camera systems, in towns such as Laurel, Salisbury and Hagerstown, and had less than $10 million in assets.

The firm got Baltimore's system running again in February, but city officials shut the cameras down in April amid new problems blamed on human error. For example, a Brekford camera on The Alameda was programmed with the wrong speed limit, and the city voided hundreds of tickets.

Rawlings-Blake said last month that she didn't want the cameras to go back online until they could demonstrate "accuracy, efficiency and consistency."

The shutdown has caused financial issues for Brekford, which has been alerting investors to losses. Brekford said it lost $1.2 million in 2012 during the ramp-up to run Baltimore's program, and nearly $1 million through September of this year.

On Thursday, the company filed a notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission notifying investors that top company officials, CEO C.B. Brechin and President Scott Rutherford, had given the company more time to repay $500,000 in personal loans from them.