- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Congress has approved the District's request to use $800,000 for its new photo radar cameras — designed to catch speeders electronically.
But House Majority Leader Dick Armey decries the congressional support of the program.
The speed camera program is expected to officially begin Aug. 1 and for the District to move forward, it had to get congressional approval for the money it expects to spend to implement the plan.
It got that support — and the authorization to use the money — last week after the House passed the final version of a military supplemental appropriations bill that goes until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Senate also has already given the go-ahead to the stopgap spending measure bill, and President Bush is expected to sign it.
But a spokesman for Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, said the federal government has no business encouraging the use of the cameras, especially in the nation's capital.
"We shouldn't have Congress endorse this kind of system," Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said. "It's not good for the federal government to be involved in promoting devices that undermine citizens' privacy rights, especially the right to face one's accuser."
Mr. Armey voted against the spending measure specifically because Congress was authorizing the District to use the $800,000 for its speed camera programs, essentially giving the District federal approval to invade drivers' privacy, Mr. Diamond said.
Several House Republican aides said that unlike past instances with controversial subjects involving the District, like funding for needle-sharing programs, the line item for the cameras was handled quietly.
But the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for the District, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Michigan Republican, said the money was put into the supplemental spending bill because the District asked for it and the spending bill was not meant to address policy issues.
"If it is their money, we pretty much let them have their say," Mr. Knollenberg said.
Mr. Knollenberg did note, however, that he and his staff were going to look at the issue more carefully as they formulate the fiscal 2002 budget for the District, which begins in October.
"We don't want to become Big Brother," Mr. Knollenberg said, adding that he is somewhat supportive of the 39 red-light cameras around the District as well as the benefits of the speed cameras, saying they have been proven to reduce accidents.
The District is also using the speed cameras as a "cash cow," Mr. Diamond said. Since the red-light camera program was introduced in August 1999, more than $12 million in fines have been collected from roughly 231,000 citations, according to the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.org).
And according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Times, the city is expected to reap a windfall of about $11 million a year from fines.
The city was to have actually begun the program last August, but it was delayed. Now, up to 60 different locations around the city will be targeted by five roving Ford Crown Victorias outfitted with about $100,000 worth of radar equipment. There will also be one fixed location, D.C. police spokesman Kevin Morison said.
Regardless of Mr. Armey's opinion, Mr. Morison said that both the red-light cameras and the new speed cameras are intended to save lives and not one cent of the $800,000 comes from taxpayers.
"The program is entirely funded by violators who break the law," Mr. Morison said. "The speeding program is paid by only people who speed."
The way the system works, he said, is that money is exchanged only when a speeder pays a fine, which can amount to $200 or more, with the city and the contractor — Lockheed Martin IM — only making money at that time.
The $800,000 that the District wanted Congress to approve was just a rough estimate of what Lockheed was to be paid. But that money, he said, will only materialize when there are violations, something the city and Lockheed are counting on. Lockheed will collect $29 for every ticket paid.
The vehicles and equipment, Mr. Morison said, were also provided by Lockheed.
Mr. Diamond dismissed Mr. Morison's defense of the congressional action, noting that by approving the funds, it has given federal credence to the use of the cameras, something Mr. Armey strongly opposes.
"We didn't like it. That's why we voted against [the supplemental spending bill] and asked the GAO [Government Accounting Office] to report on the extent the federal government is involved with the cameras."

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