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'Perfect storm' of errors caused speeding ticket to stopped car, police say

A "perfect storm of errors" caused the city of Baltimore to issue a speed camera citation to a stationary vehicle, the Police Department's chief spokesman said Thursday.

Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi acknowledged that Officer Christopher Izquierdo should not have validated the citation, which alleged that a Mazda wagon was going 38 mph even though a video clip from the camera and two time-stamped photos given as evidence clearly show the car stopped at a red light.

State law requires every citation to be approved by a sworn law enforcement officer, and in the city that is the final step before a ticket is mailed out to the vehicle's owner. But Guglielmi said this case indicates multiple breakdowns in the process, beginning with the radar-equipped camera and continuing through a subsequent review by the city's speed camera contractor, Xerox State and Local Solutions.

"It sounds like a perfect storm of errors," he said. "The equipment sends up the photos, the photos went through the process, it was authenticated [by police]. There's no disputing that."

Two weeks ago, Baltimore's deputy transportation director said he no longer has full confidence in the accuracy of the city speed cameras' radar systems, prompting the city to start a new "reasonableness" test on two cameras known to have issued erroneous tickets.

Those two cameras, on West Cold Spring Lane near the Polytechnic Institute-Western High School campus, have been taken offline. Early this month, Xerox and the city carried out 189 test runs of one of the cameras but could not determine why it had issued faulty speed readings over several months.

Guglielmi noted that a task force formed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been reviewing the city's network of red-light and speed cameras for several weeks. "This task force is designed to figure out how this happened, why this happened and how to fix it," he said.

The group has its next meeting Friday morning. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said Wednesday the city will have more to say there about the April 24 speeding citation issued to the motionless car in Northeast Baltimore. She has not commented specifically on that citation.

While the task force is meeting, Daniel Doty, the city resident who owns the cited Mazda, plans to be in District Court contesting the $40 ticket.

The speed camera that photographed Doty's car in the 1700 block of E. Cold Spring Lane is the seventh found by The Baltimore Sun to have issued tickets with erroneous speed readings. There are 83 cameras stationed throughout the city.

The Sun recently published an investigation focusing on the city's speed camera program, which found that citations can be inaccurate and that judges routinely throw out tickets for a variety of problems. The Sun also showed that drivers cannot verify the alleged speeds with the information printed on tickets from Baltimore County, Howard County and the State Highway Administration.

Barnes has repeatedly said the city takes any possible camera errors seriously and pointed to the work of the task force, composed of city officials and outside members. At the same time, she says the city believes the overall error rate is low and that the cameras have made roads safer.

Xerox spokesman Chris Gilligan said this week the company believes problems are "rare and isolated." He also noted that a systemwide audit of the city's program is continuing and has led to an added "manual review" of citations at all camera locations.

Like all speed camera citations, Doty's ticket was reviewed by Xerox employees before going to the Police Department's automated enforcement unit for authentication. The citation bears the stamped signature of Izquierdo, a member of the Special Operations Unit, which includes the traffic section.

Izquierdo, 40, who joined the force in 1999, was not made available for an interview Thursday.

The Police Department has previously said a single officer can be called on to review up to 1,200 citations per day, leaving little time to scrutinize each one.

"It's no secret the volume of citations that have to be reviewed as authentic is a lot," Guglielmi said. "You rely almost exclusively on the equipment, the validity of the equipment. That's all you have. You have the photographs, the time stamps. You authenticate based on the equipment.

"We need to figure out: Is it an equipment issue? Is it oversight?" he added. "We don't know the answer to that. It could be both."

scalvert@baltsun.com

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