"It certainly makes me a little uncomfortable knowing that incentive is in there," he said.

Howard County has a contract with Xerox that pays the firm $9.65 per ticket for the first 5,000 citations and a smaller amount per citation for subsequent increments of 5,000 tickets. County employees control so much of the speed camera program that the per-citation payment to Xerox is just a processing fee on top of a flat-rate equipment rental for two vans, said county spokesman David Nitkin.

Earlier this year, Baltimore County changed how it pays its contractor, also Xerox. The county had been paying about $12,000 a month for each camera, no matter how many citations were issued. Now it pays Xerox about $19 of every $40 speed camera citation paid by drivers.

County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler described the new arrangement as "an improved financial package" for the county that would yield more money for public safety initiatives.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit in Washington, discourages paying by the ticket, in part because of public perception, said Jonathan Adkins, the group's deputy executive director. He said the biggest challenge facing speed cameras is the suspicion that the primary purpose is to raise money — not improve public safety.

"In a lot of cases, we've lost the public relations battle," he said, noting that Arizona removed its speed cameras amid public anger. "The best practice is to have a flat fee — a set amount of money."

Del. Curt Anderson, a Democrat and chairman of the city's legislative delegation, said the legislature needs to clarify the law to say "regardless of whether the contractor or local jurisdiction operates, any fee cannot be based upon the number of citations issued."

"That's legislation I would clearly be interested in pursuing," he said.

Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he isn't sure whether a change is needed because the current law is clear.

"They have lawyers who have managed to craft a different meaning out of the same sentence," Frosh said of local governments. "We weren't trying to stop third-party operators from operating the system. We were trying to avoid a situation in which we create a perverse incentive to generate revenue."

The pay-by-the-citation model sparked a long-running legal fight that began in 2008 when ticket recipients sued Montgomery County and several municipalities in the county. It ended in August with the state's highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, ruling against the plaintiffs on the grounds that the legislature did not give anyone the right to sue.

But the court did not decide the crux of the case — whether and under what circumstances governments can pay contractors based on how many tickets the cameras generate.

The defense turned in part on the meaning of the word "operates." The governments argued that they operate the programs, while the contractor — Xerox — provides equipment and vehicles. A lower court sided with the local governments, as did the state's second-highest court, the Court of Special Appeals.

In his comments Tuesday, O'Malley, a Democrat, emphasized his belief that automated enforcement has had a positive effect on public safety.

"Part of the achievement of that 25 percent reduction has been the greater use of technology both in terms of red light cameras and speed cameras," O'Malley said. "But whether it's an officer pulling over a citizen for speeding by pacing him or an officer using a radar gun or this new technology, it all has to be able to stand up in court and be reliable.

"And the counties have to operate within the law that laid out the parameters for the operation of these cameras," he said. "We are doing that at the state level with SHA."

Anne Arundel County resident Joe Stumpf, 51, doesn't have confidence in Baltimore's cameras, which are all located in school zones. He was driving his Chevy Blazer in the 300 block of Patapsco Ave. in Brooklyn when a speed camera recorded him going 46 mph.

But the two time-stamped photos given as evidence of his speeding show the Blazer moved barely eight feet between the photos, taken 0.313 seconds apart. That works out to a speed of about 18 mph.

Xerox spokesman Chris Gilligan did not comment on Stumpf's ticket but said the company believes that most problems are "isolated to a radar effect, which is caused by a high-profile vehicle being in the line of sight of the radar, when the speed is recorded."

In Stumpf's case, a large garbage truck was in front of his Blazer, making a left turn, as he drove past the camera. Stumpf could have challenged the ticket in court but said he could not afford to take off from work, so he just paid the $40.

"It's just not fair," he said. "They can say children, children, children all they want. It's a money grab."



  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts