Leading D.C. mayoral hopefuls are undecided on whether the city's automated speed-cameras are disproportionately placed in black communities but agree the locations should be more strictly scrutinized.
Lobbyist and mayoral candidate Michael A. Brown took the strongest stance on the issue, saying he would eliminate the cameras entirely.
"By looking at the locations, I don't think there's any question that they're disproportionate," Mr. Brown said. "If I'm elected, I'm taking them all out — from Ward 1 to Ward 8."
Yesterday, The Washington Times reported that some D.C. residents were concerned about a perceived racial disparity among the areas monitored by the cameras.
Of the 34 speed-enforcement zones monitored by the District in April, 23 of them were in Northeast and Southeast — predominantly black sections of the city.
Mr. Brown said he wasn't sure whether race played a factor in the cameras' placement, but was nevertheless uncomfortable with the "Big Brother" atmosphere that the cameras foster.
"I've had a problem with the cameras from Day One," he said. "They were never about safety, they were about revenue. Clearly, it isn't helping safety if the revenues continue to go up."
The other candidates disagreed about the cameras' usefulness.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat, said the cameras are solely used to curb speeders and would expand the program if elected.
"The idea for the camera is for public safety," she said. "I'm not against cameras. Cameras, I think, will help bring about more safety in the communities."
Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said he hasn't heard complaints of racial disparity concerning the cameras but added, "I think we should equally enforce the law against people who speed in our residential areas. We should look to put cameras wherever they're needed."
Verizon executive Marie C. Johns said she also would continue to deploy the cameras, provided the locations were properly researched.
"[T]hey should serve a purpose. We can't make the claim that the cameras are about safety if the most dangerous intersections aren't monitored," she said.
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, did not respond to repeated attempts yesterday for comment on the cameras.
Other council members also questioned whether the cameras are properly deployed but were in accord that race was probably not a factor.
Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, said the locations would understandably cause concern among some residents, but doubts locations were racially influenced.
"Is there a disproportionate number of cameras east of the river? Yes. But do I think there's a racial disparity? The answer is no."
David A. Catania, at-large independent who is seeking re-election, agreed that the assertions are likely unfounded.
"It would be appalling, but I just can't see that it would be true," he said.
Metropolitan Police have maintained that safety is the underlying factor in choosing enforcement zones.
Although the number of traffic fatalities have fluctuated since the speed cameras were implemented in 2001, fatalities have decreased to 49 deaths last year, down from 71 in 2001.
However, police do not have any statistics showing a correlation between the automated-enforcement program and a reduction in traffic deaths or crashes.
Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, said it is "unfortunate" that race is considered as a factor by critics.
Mrs. Ambrose, who is not running for re-election, said that the cameras target busy commuter thoroughfares and that it is coincidental that the routes are mainly in predominantly black neighborhoods.
"Whoever made this complaint ought to go to some of these [police service area] meetings and hear the people who say they want speed and picture cameras on some of these streets," she said. "The cameras are in the areas and on the corridors where there have been recorded the highest number of accidents and speeding."
Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat running for re-election, said the cameras were originally not aimed at D.C. residents at all.
"These cameras were stationed in places that largely hit suburbanites," he said. "I hate to generalize or say they are targeted at any particular group of people, but the fact of the matter is that Maryland drivers are just notorious speeders."
He said he plans to further investigate the cameras' deployment.