During the first week of June, for instance, the number of speed camera tickets logged by city cameras — 15,902 — was more than double the 6,941 traditional speeding tickets that Baltimore police officers handed out all last year.
'We're not trying to trap them'
City officials say it's all done in the name of safety. Lower ticket tallies from many of the cameras, as well as before-and-after speed studies conducted by the government, show that drivers are slowing down, they say. As awareness grows, they expect more motorists to ease up on the gas.
"We're not trying to trap them," said Frank Murphy, the city's deputy transportation director for operations. "We're trying to give them an opportunity to slow down themselves. If they don't, then the camera does its job."
Officials also stress that the program has safeguards: Cameras are checked daily to ensure they work properly, they say. Each device is calibrated annually by an independent expert. Xerox employees review every potential citation twice. And a police officer signs off on each ticket before it is mailed to the vehicle owner, though in the city a single officer can review 1,200 citations per shift.
Xerox points out that the type of radar devices used in Baltimore is certified as accurate by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"The number of violations drops anywhere we install cameras," said Mark J. Talbot, a vice president at Xerox, which has received more than $20 million from the city, Baltimore County and the State Highway Administration. "To me that's success. And if it's working, it's solving the problem. That means more customers and more people will want it in their community."
Yet the total number of drivers caught speeding by the cameras has climbed even after all of the city's cameras were installed. The city recorded its biggest monthly total in June, with 86,000 tickets, and this year's total has already eclipsed last year's.
One reason for the increase is the eight portable cameras operated by the city, The Sun's analysis shows. Whereas most of the city's speed cameras are permanently affixed to roadside poles — and the number of tickets there typically declines as motorists become aware of them — the city relocates its eight portable cameras among dozens of different locations.
At a recent task force meeting, city officials presented a graph showing reduced speeding at fixed-pole cameras. But such drops mask the outsize role played by the portable cameras. During a three-month stretch that began in June, portable cameras logged more than 80,000 citations, or more than a third of the city's total.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke complained that the city is too quick to move portable cameras to new locations, after they've caught many motorists but before they have made a lasting impact on how fast people drive.
"Put them where they belong," she said, "and leave them there."
One Nissan, 125 (unpaid) tickets
If lawmakers expected roadside signs or the arrival of a speed camera ticket in the mail to change how drivers behave, tens of thousands of people don't seem to have gotten the message.
More than 170,000 vehicles — equivalent to nearly 20 percent of all the licensed drivers in the city and the county — have received at least four citations in the Baltimore region since late 2009, records show.
Had those tickets been issued by police officers, many of the drivers' licenses would likely have been suspended. A traditional moving violation of 10 mph or more over the speed limit carries a minimum of two points on a driver's record, and eight points within two years can trigger a suspension.
Some drivers are particularly brazen, careless or unlucky — or some combination. Nearly 600 vehicles have had 30 or more citations, and more than three dozen have racked up at least 50.
Topping the list is a Nissan Xterra with North Carolina plates that has received 125 citations, nearly all on Kelly Avenue in the city's Mount Washington neighborhood. As with all speed camera violators, the owner's identity is confidential under federal law.
Records show the Nissan's owner hasn't paid any of the tickets and owes the city $5,000. According to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, the license plate expired more than a year ago, meaning the SUV shouldn't be traveling on area roads at any speed.
"Wow … wow," Murphy said, after hearing about some of the frequent fliers. "You almost want to say, 'What are you thinking? Why do you do this? You know if you hit the brake, you save 40 bucks!'"