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Baltimore approves $278,000 for firm to monitor speed cameras

Baltimore officials on Wednesday hired a private company to oversee an overhaul of the city's speed and red light camera system — and audit tickets to ensure accuracy.

The city's spending panel, the Board of Estimates, approved a six-month, $278,000 contract with URS Corp., a San Francisco-based engineering and management firm. The company will provide "specialized monitoring services," ensure that "protocols and policies are properly implemented," and prepare monthly progress reports, according to board documents.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the measure is a response to Baltimore Sun articles the found a series of erroneous tickets generating from the city's speed cameras.

She said The Sun's reporting "suggested that we have independent audits. And, as I do, I went straight out to work to get that done."

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city's Transportation Department, said the company will perform engineering and safety studies of the city's 158 camera locations; review an audit performed by the city's former speed camera vendor, Xerox State & Local Solutions; and conduct a "sample audit" of the speed camera citations issued this year by the new vendor, Brekford Corp.

Barnes said URS Corp. would provide an "outside independent" perspective.

"Sadly, hundreds of thousands of motorists are speeding in school zones throughout the city," Barnes said. "We can't lose sight of the fact that we have an obligation to make our streets safe."

News of the contract caught some by surprise.

"It's the first I'm hearing of it," said Ragina Averella of AAA Mid-Atlantic, a member of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's task force studying the city's program. "Hopefully, the task force will be briefed about this new development."

A spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who chairs the Board of Estimates, said Young knew nothing of the contract before the panel's meeting. Company officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The city's system of 158 speed and red light cameras was shut down during a troubled transition to a new vendor around Jan. 1. A top city official has said that 10 of the city's 83 cameras are now operational, although online data do not show any tickets issued to motorists in 2013.

Brekford has said it could take up to four months to get its system running. Baltimore plans to pay Brekford $11.20 per $40 citation, a so-called "bounty system" that critics argue is unlawful. Speed cameras brought in $19.2 million for city government last fiscal year.

A Baltimore Sun investigation documented erroneous speed readings from seven city radar cameras, including a speeding citation issued to a car that was stopped at a red light.

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