- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

The District's No. 2 cop says the city's photo-radar camera does generate big money and the show will go on despite mistakes made by officers and the computer software that runs the cameras.
Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer said the District has issued 100,000 photo-radar tickets in four months, worth $1.4 million split between the city and its vendor and 259,474 red-light camera tickets in three years totaling $14 million in fines collected. But there's been a 57 percent decrease in red-light violations.
As many as 300 mistakes have been made so far, Chief Gainer estimated.
"Given the number of tickets issued, [the mistakes] should not be a show stopper. But we need to do better and eliminate the errors," Chief Gainer said.
The Washington Times has reported on a number of speeding-ticket errors that led to complaints from car owners in the District, Maryland and Virginia about the use of photo-radar enforcement.
Some residents and police departments in other jurisdictions say the Metropolitan Police Department's per-ticket-paid contract with the vendor, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), makes the photo-radar enforcement look like a cash cow for the District.
Chief Gainer said officers don't tell the computer what the speed limit is on a given stretch of road when they attach it to their cruiser. Quite the opposite. After the officers punch in a database code for the street the camera will survey, the computer tells the officer the speed limit even if a speed limit sign that contradicts the machine is in plain sight.
Eastover Auto Supply, for example, received four tickets on Malcolm X Avenue for going 41 mph in a 25 mph zone. The speed limit on Malcolm X Avenue is 30 mph. The error cost Eastover Auto $50 in excess fines. Those tickets were voided.
"That appears to be a system error, and we need to address that with the vendor," Chief Gainer said.
Kevin P. Morison, spokesman for the D.C. police, said a ticket received by Robert Bouchard of McLean under similar circumstances on Southeast/Southwest Freeway was also voided. He was doing 54 mph in a 35 mph zone, but the limit is 40 mph where he was caught.
Chief Gainer's wife probably would like to have a few words with the vendor, too.
"My wife just received her second speed-camera ticket, so we too are involuntarily contributing to the figures," Chief Gainer joked .
Dallas-based ACS bought out Lockheed Martin IMS the company formerly responsible for the upkeep of the District's cameras for $825 million. The sale became final on Aug. 24.
Pat Nelson, manager of the Portland and Beaverton, Ore., photo-radar programs said: "Photo-radar costs us money with the flat-monthly-fee contract about $100,000 to $200,000 each year." The Portland-Beaverton program is also run by ACS.
"We had a per-ticket contract here, but we changed it because it gave the impression that we were trying to raise money," said Sgt. Dave Pearson of the Fort Collins Police Department in Colorado.
Chief Gainer is also concerned about that perception. The District operates on a per-ticket-paid deal between the city and ACS, which gets $29 per ticket, regardless of the fine imposed. If a driver is fined $30 or $100, ACS gets $29 and the city gets the rest.
D.C. police said they have been negotiating a new flat-monthly-fee contract for the past two months.
"The problem is the bureaucracy. ACS is going through staff changes with companies changing hands, and on our end it is the office of [the] chief financial officer and procurement that is slowing the process," Chief Gainer said. "We need to get it done, and [everyone agrees] on that point."
The Times also reported that most jurisdictions out West have different enforcement procedures for their photo-radar practices. Most police departments in California, Oregon and Washington take photos of a car's driver and the license plates, allowing them to assess points. They use marked cars, and they must put a sign within 100 to 400 yards of the target zone.
Chief Gainer said D.C. law does not allow frontal pictures because of privacy concerns: "I do think our inability to assess points takes some of the teeth out of the enforcement, and I would prefer to see points," he said.
"The use of this technology with the proper checks and balances is a fair way to save lives, slow people down and stop crashes," he said.

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