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Xerox submitted faulty data on Howard speed camera program

Xerox CorporationLocal GovernmentAAABrekford Corp.

The speed camera company blasted in Baltimore for issuing tickets to people who weren't speeding is now facing criticism in Howard County, where it submitted a year's worth of inaccurate data about the program there.

Data submitted by Xerox State & Local Solutions for the county's four cameras repeatedly listed more vehicles speeding than there were cars on the road, according to documents reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. The 2013 data sometimes reported that 200 percent, 400 percent or even 600 percent of the number of cars that passed by a camera were speeding.

County officials say Xerox lost some files that tracked the total number of vehicles on a road. Officials say they do not believe that any erroneous citations were issued to motorists, in part because the citations are generated by a different computer program and undergo a review process. But they say the mistakes in the data are a problem for police trying to monitor the speed camera program.

"We are demanding that this be resolved," said Howard Police Chief Gary Gardner. He said he learned about the problem from The Sun. He said the county has given Xerox until the middle of the month to submit corrected data. "Given the issues that Xerox has had in other jurisdictions, we don't want to have a black mark on our program."

Xerox has been Howard County's speed camera vendor since 2011 and receives about $22 for each $40 ticket given out in the county. Last fiscal year, the county collected $448,000 in speed camera fines, $255,000 of which was paid to Xerox. County officials say that after paying employees and funding the program, they collected about $15,000 in revenue from the tickets, adding that the point of the effort is traffic safety.

Howard officials note that in 2013, only 47 people contested their tickets in court, with just two winning.

In a statement, Xerox acknowledged that its reports to the county had "missing data," but said its employees were in the process of correcting the reports. "There are no issues with the cameras and ... no erroneous violations were forwarded to the county for review," the statement said.

Even so, some said they believe that the flawed data raises questions about the integrity of the county's speed camera program.

"If the data smells funny, there probably is a problem," said state Del. Warren Miller, a Howard County Republican. "We really should take a more comprehensive look at the accuracy of these systems. And we shouldn't have vendors like Xerox getting rich off this system if it's not working."

Miller said he plans to reintroduce a bill in the next General Assembly session that would require quarterly audits of all speed camera programs in Maryland.

Xerox operated Baltimore's speed camera program from the fall of 2009 through 2012, drawing criticism after an investigation in 2012 by The Sun documented erroneous speed readings at seven cameras. The investigation found that tickets were issued to motorists who were not speeding, including one stopped at a red light.

The city replaced Xerox with Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County, but its brief tenure in 2013 was beset by problems, and the city shut down the entire system. A city-commissioned audit of Xerox's cameras, which was leaked to The Sun this year, showed that the errors had been more widespread than the city disclosed.

Xerox also is the speed camera vendor for the State Highway Administration and for Baltimore County.

Howard County Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican, called the inaccurate data in Howard "alarming."

"We need to make sure that we protect the safety of our children," he said. "At the same time, we need to make sure we're doing things right."

Democrat Calvin Ball, chairman of the Howard County Council, said the mistakes reinforce the importance of requiring county police to issue reports on the system. "At least there weren't any inaccuracies that affected the citizens," he said.

Howard County government spokesman David Nitkin said officials are looking for about 130 files out of about 6,000 uploaded throughout the year. Police Capt. John McKissick said county officials aren't certain how much information was missing from the company's report to the county. "I'm not sure we know what we don't know," he said.

Howard County's system differs in notable ways from Baltimore's. It's much smaller — four cameras compared with the 83 that once operated in the city — and it uses laser technology instead of radar to track speed. Howard County generally cites cars on single-lane roads, employs staff to constantly monitor the system and conducts hourly tests of its cameras.

But Howard County does not provide motorists with specific time stamps as some critics have called for — a move that would enable drivers to fact-check their tickets. Howard County speed camera program director Fred von Briesen said the county would need to negotiate with Xerox and contractor Vitronic in Germany to make that change.

Ragina Cooper-Averella, public affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, called the data problem "unfortunate" because she said Howard County is known for running a good speed camera program.

"On the surface, it appears that Howard County's automated speed camera program is achieving the goals of increasing traffic safety, with reduced crashes in school zones and decreased citations year over year, suggesting that motorists are indeed slowing down in school zones and changing their driving behaviors," she said.

The county "has multiple layers and checks and balances in place to ensure that motorists do not receive erroneous citations," she added. "While the data suggests that no motorists received illegitimate tickets ... bad data in an otherwise good report is something that will obviously raise concerns about an automated speed program's integrity."

County officials point to the safeguards in place.

"We're still pretty conservative in our approach to this," McKissick said. "We like the idea of having a human being there, saying, 'I see it. It's working.' This isn't 'Nineteen Eighty-Four.' If we slow people down, we think this is a winner."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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