Speed camera

Test results and other records obtained by The Baltimore Sun provide the first public look at persistent problems that led officials to cut ties last week with the system's contractor. (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun / April 16, 2013)

Defective radar. Wrong citation numbers. Error rates as high as 30 percent.

Such problems persisted during months of testing aimed at fixing and restarting Baltimore's speed and red-light camera system, newly released documents show. Test results and other records obtained by The Baltimore Sun provide the first public look at persistent problems that led officials to cut ties last week with the system's contractor.

City officials had ordered Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County to stop issuing citations in April because of errors, and three months later they began putting the system through tests aimed at salvaging a five-year deal signed in 2012. But as summer turned to fall, an array of problems remained, according to weekly updates filed with the city and obtained by The Sun through a Public Information Act request.

As of Oct. 18, hundreds of Brekford's dummy red-light tickets bore different citation numbers than those in its own system, and many test tickets had a "mail by" date that conflicted with legal requirements, the records show. On speed cameras, a consultant for the city noted that Brekford had swapped out "a couple of defective radars" and waited four months to move a camera to a median as directed by city officials.

Into October, the documents show, 10 percent of the mock speed camera tickets were showing errors judged to be within the vendor's control — double the error rate allowed by the city.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she remains committed to automated enforcement despite problems with Brekford and the city's previous camera vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions. The release of the documents, which shed light on difficulties in fixing Brekford's system, came as city officials outlined plans to search for another contractor.

"It's a big mess, and we need to fix it as soon as possible," said State Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of the city's House delegation.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the House transportation subcommittee, said the city should have revealed the problems with Brekford sooner. She now believes Baltimore should scrap speed cameras entirely.

"This is not our first bad experience with the speed camera program," she said. "This is our second bad experience. I don't believe, in these tough economic times, that we should impose anything more on our residents. This program should be scrapped."

Representatives of Brekford did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The reports show that Brekford worked with the city government to try to fix various problems, but the documents generally do not contain direct responses from the company.

City officials would not explain in detail why they cut ties with Brekford — which will receive $600,000 under the settlement — citing a non-disparagement clause in the contract termination agreement approved by the Board of Estimates. Transportation officials also declined to discuss test findings by California-based URS Corp., a consultant hired to provide outside monitoring of the camera program.

"I can't really talk about those kinds of things," Transportation Director William M. Johnson said in an interview Thursday. "The chapter with Brekford and the past program is closed. We're moving forward now."

Brekford's staff "worked really hard to try to help sort things out with the program," Johnson said, adding, "It just didn't work out."

Getting cameras back online is "a high priority," he said, predicting that would happen in 2014 after a new contractor is chosen.

"When we do restart the program, it will be a program we can stand behind," he said. "That's why we're taking our time, evaluating all the options."

Officials have already ruled out the continued use of a "bounty system" that has paid vendors a share of each $40 speed camera fine and $75 red-light fine.

Glenn said that if the city insists on pressing forward, officials should require any potential contractor to undergo a probationary period. Such a measure would allow the city to more easily cut ties with a contractor that can't perform, she said.

"If you are new employee on a job, you have a probationary period," she said. "I don't know why we can't do that with any vendor for a speed-camera program."

Anderson, a Democrat, questioned why the city agreed to pay Brekford $600,000. The city also agreed to complete a $2.2 million purchase of 72 speed cameras that Johnson has acknowledged the city probably won't be able to use for speed cameras. He has said the cameras could instead be used for traffic studies.

"If the problems are all Brekford's fault, why are we afraid of a lawsuit?" asked Anderson, who remains a supporter of speed cameras as a way to get drivers to slow down and make school zones safer.