- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

The Metropolitan Police Department collected a record $2.98 million in fines from its automated speed cameras in December — capping the most lucrative year in the program’s five-year history.

The speed-camera program is just part of the District’s expanding automated traffic-enforcement program that has collected more than $129 million since 1999. The city’s 49 red-light cameras have generated more than $34 million, including $5.2 million last year.

The speed cameras have generated nearly $95 million in fines since they were added to the program in 2001, including a record $28.9 million last year.

The District broke the monthly revenue record in December, even though only 3.1 percent of about 2.6 million vehicles monitored by cameras during the month were exceeding speed limits.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey denied that the city is increasing the number of monitored locations to maintain revenue as the number of speeding motorists decreases. He said the steady increase of revenue results mainly from the department’s obtaining more camera-equipped vehicles.

Currently, 12 vehicles outfitted with cameras rotate periodically through nearly 80 enforcement zones, and 10 speed cameras are in fixed locations.

“Safer roadways is the only factor that matters to me,” Chief Ramsey said. “We still have too many people speeding in D.C.”

John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA’s mid-Atlantic region, disagreed. He called the automated-enforcement program a “profit center” and said the District has “expanded the universe” to monitor more vehicles to keep revenues afloat.

“The city government needs to examine [speed limits] in the name of fairness and justice,” he said. “There’s a bounty on motorists, and I wonder if the driving public has any faith in the system anymore.”

The automated speed-enforcement program collected $24.2 million in 2004 and $18.8 million in 2003, according to police statistics. In 2002, the first full calendar year of the program, the cameras generated $17.4 million in fines.

AAA, the country’s largest automobile-owner group, designated the District in November as a “strict enforcement area” — the first time in the organization’s 105-year history that an entire city has received the label.

Last year, D.C. Council members Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican; and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, introduced a bill calling for the city and Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, to re-evaluate the posted speed limits on streets where speed cameras are used.

“There’s a difference between regulating something and exploiting people,” AAA’s Mr. Townsend said. “We’re modifying behavior, but at what price?”

A ticket for a red-light violation in the District carries a $75 fine, and speeding violations can cost as much as $200, depending on how fast the driver is moving, according to the police department.

Revenue also has increased steadily despite police scaling back surveillance at such locations as the 2800 block of New York Avenue NE and two spots along the Anacostia Parkway — areas that have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Chief Ramsey said the small fleet of camera-equipped vehicles made deployment at New York Avenue less of a priority, though the zone continues to be monitored occasionally.

“The outbound New York Avenue traffic is basically leaving the city,” he said. “The next traffic light is well into Maryland. Since we have a limited number of automated cars, the focus is on cars entering the city rather than leaving.”

Kevin P. Morison, spokesman for Chief Ramsey, said the department briefly stopped monitoring the two locations on the Anacostia Parkway last summer, which significantly lowered the number of violations issued from June through August.

The number of violations then increased, in part because the police department resumed monitoring the parkway in the fall after numerous serious crashes.

The city added five stationary speed-cameras in August and September, which contributed to the increase, Mr. Morison said.

Despite the drop off in monitoring, there was no decrease in the revenue collected. At least $1.9 million was collected every month last year — including $2.25 million in August and $2.31 million in September.