Harford Sheriff to consider speed cameras

Harford County could get speed cameras, but if it does, Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane hopes to avoid the kind of controversy that recently hit Baltimore's camera system, with an investigation by The Baltimore Sun uncovering malfunctioning equipment and other irregularities with the system.

Bane told the Edgewood Community Council on Wednesday that he has already talked to several different vendors about putting speed cameras in school zones and on school buses to catch people who pass buses that are stopped.

"One of the things we have right now is this controversy that's developed over the speed cameras in Baltimore City and surrounding jurisdictions," Bane said. "I want to be real careful that if we do put speed cameras in Harford County that we don't encounter the same [controversy]."

"We want to demonstrate that we are putting them up for safety purposes, that it's not a money-making gimmick," he said.

Bane said the cameras would be placed where a traffic analysis shows speeding is an issue.

"The Willoughby Beach [Road] area has always been a problem," he said, referring to the road that passes by the shared campus of Edgewood High School, Edgewood Middle School and Deerfield Elementary School.

Although cameras in that school area would only be operating during school hours, it could also have a psychological effect by making people notice the cameras, Bane said.

Wanting speed cameras and having the authority to install and use them aren't the same. Maryland law governs where speed cameras may be used and one of Harford County's state senators says widespread use in Harford County is not allowed by law.

Sen. Barry Glassman, who is against speed cameras, said state legislation permitted speed cameras in school zones only, in any Maryland jurisdiction.

Without new state legislation, Harford County, therefore, is not allowed to have speed cameras outside of those zones.

"I think you are seeing in Baltimore City now, with the inaccuracy and so forth, it really is just a money-making operation," Glassman said about the cameras, adding that the technology is not as good as people thought it would be.

"I really think it's just degenerated into just a money-making proposition," he added.

Edgewood perceptions

Art Stuempfle, who recently helped write a book about the history of Edgewood, also told the council he was again concerned about a negative perception of the community.

Stuempfle said a group of college students studying "social welfare" were going to do an analysis of Edgewood and asked for information so they could assess the needs and assets of the area and what would improve the community.

The final report cited Edgewood as an area "now considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Baltimore area," he said.

The report cited escalating drug violence and gangs, calling Edgewood "a troubled area."

"That really bothers me because they're really looking at a very small area," he said. "It would be nice to be able to kind of say, 'Hey, we're not that bad, in most cases.'"

Bane agreed with that assessment and pointed out that Harford County was also deemed the second-safest county in the state for violent crimes this past year.

Bane told Stuempfle: "You can tell them if the sheriff was that concerned, [his wife] wouldn't be allowed to shop in Edgewood, and she's here almost every day."

Stuempfle said he told the students that the overall picture of Edgewood is not accurate, as about 10 percent of its total area – two square miles out of 18 – has crime, while the safe areas remain safe.

Improvements for pedestrians

The State Highway Administration is spearheading a project to improve pedestrian connections along Route 755, in what will be the second phase of the project.

Phase 2 will focus on Route 744 from Willoughby Beach Road to the train station and will add bicycle lanes, aesthetic improvements, sidewalks, landscape plantings, improved drainage and utility improvements.

The project is basically on schedule and has about 50 percent of its design complete, Dennis German, of SHA, told the council.

One key improvement at the Willoughby Beach crossing will make it easier for pedestrians to navigate the intersection, project manager Kelvin Saldanha said.

"One of the safety improvements we'd like to make is push pedestrian push buttons at the intersections to make it safer to cross," he said.

SHA is working with Harford County to create a better concept for the Edgewood gateway sign, he said.

The final review for the project is set for March 2013 and design completion is set for July 2013, followed by a two-year construction period.

Saldanha said roads are not expected to be closed, but lanes will be partly closed, with flaggers to guide drivers.

Improving livability

County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who represents Edgewood, told the council he plans to re-introduce livability code legislation sometime in the spring. The legislation, if passed, would seek to hold landlords responsible for ailing properties.

Two members of the Route 40 Republican Club, meanwhile, told Edgewood residents the club wants to help improve their community.

"We have been, over the last year, looking at how do we help Edgewood. What can we do as a group of people - not Republicans, not Democrats, but a group of people that are community-oriented and live in the community, and most of us do," President Fred Mullis said.

"We can find out what your projects are and we can work with the county and work with the delegation," he said.

Edgewood Community Council Chairman Jansen Robinson wondered about their motives.

"There are people that would be skeptical of a political club affiliated with a political party on the heels of this election coming into Edgewood and saying, 'Hey, I'm going to do some things that we probably should have been doing but we haven't done this before,'" Robinson said.

Mullis disagreed, saying his children and grandchildren are in the area and he has a stake in the community. His wife, Paula, is head of the Joppatowne Community Council, as well.

Robinson said getting the livability code in the past has been a real challenge, and Guthrie said real estate companies and agents "came out of the woodwork" during the hearing on the bill to oppose it.

"We've run into barrier after barrier after barrier, and a lot of it is political," Robinson said.

Guthrie said he wants more of a bipartisan effort to push the bill through and hold property owners responsible.

"We certainly would like to see - we have the Democratic Committee here, the Republican Committee - we would like to see them join forces," Guthrie said. "Our problems in this county right now, with the economy when it went into the toilet like it has, [is] we've had homes all over the place that people walk away from."

Natasha Jackson, resident services manager for Windsor Valley community, talked about improvements to amenities and buildings that the community plans to make.

She said five homes will be torn down for a new community center, the community center will be improved in general and Section 8 vouchers will be given out to protect residents because rents will go up after the renovation.

"We're going to partner with whoever is going to improve our lot," she said.

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