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Baltimore kept secret another speed camera audit report

Laws and LegislationGovernmentXerox CorporationPublic OfficialsCar Guides and ReviewsGeorge Nilson

You've likely heard about the secret audit of Baltimore's speed camera program, which found error rates much higher than city officials had acknowledged. Turns out that's only part of the story.

Engineering firm URS Corp. also delivered to City Hall a second audit report that found additional errors at even more cameras. And it, too, was kept secret for nearly a year.

The second report came to light when the city's law department turned over roughly 100,000 pages of documents to a City Council committee investigating the cameras. The Baltimore Sun obtained a copy of the second report in response to a public information request. The firm's first audit, obtained by The Sun in January, found a 10.6 percent error rate at 37 cameras. Its second report concluded that the error rate for those cameras and 38 others it examined — 75 in all — was 5.5 percent.

While 5.5. percent is a lower than the error rate cited in the first report, it is far higher than city officials had acknowledged. They had insisted for months that the city's camera system made errors at a rate of "less than one-quarter of 1 percent."

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said citizens should not be alarmed by the findings of the two reports. He said that some of the errors are attributable to technical issues with the program that "had nothing to do with speed."

That's true. But the audits also found that some automobiles were ticketed when another vehicle was speeding, as well as when cars were traveling slower than would justify a fine.

The city took down its camera system in 2013 amid accuracy concerns.

Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, an anti-speed camera group, said the city government should be praised for commissioning the reviews but criticized officials for keeping them secret.

"The fact is, it's been very hard to get to the truth," Ely said. "The city was in a state of denial. They didn't want to acknowledge there were significant problems."

The city paid URS $515,000 to monitor the speed cameras.

In April 2013, URS submitted a review of 933 tickets from 37 cameras run by vendor Xerox State & Local Solutions. That report found a 10.6 percent error rate.

The document was kept confidential until it was leaked to The Sun in January. City Councilman Carl Stokes called the problems "beyond outrageous," and the City Council and the city's inspector general launched investigations.

In August, URS submitted a second audit report to city officials that reviewed 1,651 tickets from 75 cameras and found a 5.5 percent error rate. The second review found that 20 of the cameras analyzed — a higher number than previously known — produced error rates greater than 5 percent, including individual cameras with error rates of 25 percent, 35 percent and 45 percent.

Xerox did not respond to a request for comment.

George Nilson, the city's top lawyer, called the findings "inconclusive and rather benign." Nevertheless, he said, the audit reports helped the city save millions in negotiating a settlement with Xerox. Nilson said Xerox wanted to be paid $5.4 million, but agreed to a settlement of $2.3 million in light of the audit's findings.

City officials had repeatedly refused to release the audit or its related reports, citing the "attorney work product doctrine" and a "confidentiality provision" in a settlement with Xerox.

Councilman James Kraft, who is leading the council's investigation, said his committee is still collecting data. He expects to hire four staff members because the documents are voluminous.

Since 2009, Baltimore has taken in more than $50 million through $40 speed camera fines.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationGovernmentXerox CorporationPublic OfficialsCar Guides and ReviewsGeorge Nilson
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