Baltimore auditors raise questions about approval process for traffic camera tickets

The city transportation department failed to always have three independent reviewers verify tickets issued by the new traffic camera system, Baltimore’s auditor found in a new report that also questioned whether officials were properly tracking erroneous tickets.

The red-light and speeding tickets are supposed to be submitted for three levels of review before being issued. But the auditor found the same police officer conducting the second and third levels of review.

“If the policy for reviewer/approver violations is not followed, the approval process is flawed and the validity of violations becomes questionable,” Auditor Audrey Askew wrote in a report released this week. “There was no true oversight in validating speed camera violations.”

The audit report, which examined the system from its launch on July 1, 2017, to April 2018, also said the transportation department wasn’t maintaining data on tickets that the cameras issued in error. Under state law, if the city’s contractor makes a mistake on more than 5 percent of tickets, it is liable for financial damages. But the auditor said that without tracking data, the city wouldn’t know if that threshold had been met.

In its response to the auditor, the transportation department acknowledged the problem with having the same police officer conducting two levels of review and said it has told the contractor that runs the system to ensure there are proper independent reviews.

But the department disputed the auditor’s conclusion that it wasn’t tracking errors. The department said it logged tickets rejected by reviewers and tallied reports of errors from an ombudsman who takes complaints about the system. In the period covered by the audit, 2.9 percent of potential violations were found to be erroneous, so those tickets weren’t issued, the department said.

Baltimore’s camera system was halted in 2013 after it was shown to be issuing erroneous tickets. When the problems were exposed, the General Assembly passed stricter laws and the city moved to launch a second version of the camera program last year.

The audit confirmed that the new system has once again become a significant source of revenue for the city. The speed camera tickets are $40 each and red-light violations are $75. City budget officials have projected that the cameras will bring in more than $20 million this year.

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