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Mayor says she's pressing for speed camera accuracy

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she's pressing her Department of Transportation to ensure speed camera accuracy after officials acknowledged that 590 erroneous tickets were issued by the city's new multimillion-dollar camera system.

At the same time, the mayor said, she's committed to a program that she believes helps protect children from drivers who speed in school zones.

"I'm going to continue to put pressure on the Department of Transportation to continue to improve the program and to get it right," Rawlings-Blake said.

Baltimore officials announced Tuesday that they have suspended the troubled speed camera program amid the fresh reports of erroneous tickets.

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 the mayor's goal of achieving a "zero error" program, announced after The Sun documented widespread problems with the city's automated enforcement system last year.

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."

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the transportation department, said city officials found that citations also contained a "clerical error" in the portion of the tickets that instructs residents how to pay. She said the agency made the decision to suspend the camera program on Monday.

"The clerical mistakes that were recently discovered do not relate to the accuracy of the radar technology," Barnes said in an e-mail Wednesday. She added that all motorists who received the 590 tickets will receive refunds. "It is not necessary for anyone to take action or appeal the citation in order to receive a refund," she said.

Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of Baltimore's House delegation in Annapolis, said he was encouraged to see officials getting serious about fixing problems with the system.

"I'm pleased they suspended it until they get it right," he said. "We wanted them to get it right. We didn't want the program to continue if they were going to be giving out erroneous tickets."

Rawlings-Blake emphasized Wednesday that she supports the cameras because she's concerned about the safety of school children.

"What we know is every day, people are speeding. They're speeding on the streets. They're speeding near our schools. They're endangering our kids," she said. "We also know that speed cameras reduce speeding in school zones. We need to make sure the cameras are accurate, all of the time."

The erroneous tickets on The Alameda are the first indication of problems since the city revamped the program by hiring a new vendor, replacing all 83 radar-based speed cameras at a cost to the city of $2.2 million and overhauling a Police Department review process criticized as lax.

The new problems surfaced after staffing changes in the city 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 this month.

The camera that has been issuing erroneous 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.

According to the city budget, the administration expects to take in $11.4 million from the speed cameras this fiscal year and $11.2 million next year.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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