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City inspector general to launch speed camera investigation

Baltimore Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. said Friday he is launching an investigation into the city's troubled speed camera program, weeks after a City Council committee began its own inquiry.

Pearre said his investigation will encompass work done with Xerox State and Local Solutions and Brekford Corp., the city's two speed camera vendors since 2009.

"It's going to be a comprehensive investigation," he said. "We're going back to the beginning. It's going to have a broad scope."

The announcement comes as the council committee awaits the production of reams of speed camera records from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Pearre, a former FBI agent, said he plans to "reach out to the council and try to collaborate."

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the administration will cooperate with the investigation.

"From our perspective, this is another step in the process for the public to obtain all the facts in their proper context about the speed camera program," he said in an email. "We will work with both the council and the inspector general's office to get them whatever they need as they look into this issue. The public should know all the facts in their proper context and we will do our part in making sure that is the case."

The city's network of speed and red light cameras — once the largest in North America — has been idle since April, when new errors came to light and transportation officials suspended the Brekford-run program. In 2012, a Baltimore Sun investigation found numerous problems with the city's program, with seven cameras supplied by Xerox were found to have recorded inaccurate speeds.

The inspector general's probe would be Pearre's first public action since taking the job last year. He said he has conducted several personnel investigations and expects to publicize "a number" of them soon.

Pearre replaced David N. McClintock, whose investigations concluded that some city workers were stealing scrap metal and that others were overspending on gas credit cards. He also found instances of alleged overbilling by contractors working for the city.

In his final year, McClintock's office recovered about $540,000 in funds from suspected fraud, waste and abuse, according to an annual report. His highest-profile report detailed possible conflicts of interest and wasteful practices in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology as it purchased equipment for the municipal phone system.

Councilman James B. Kraft is leading the council's investigation, which was prompted by an audit of the speed camera program that the administration commissioned and never released. The audit, obtained by The Sun, found much higher error rates than city officials had acknowledged.

Kraft could not be reached for comment Friday. This week, he said City Solicitor George Nilson had agreed to comply with a lengthy request for documents.

In an email, Nilson said his office had begun gathering the documents and would "vigorously work to assemble responsive ones." He said the administration was agreeing to waive attorney work-product privilege to provide some records.

The Office of Inspector General is independent and falls under the city's Law Department, which Nilson leads.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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