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Loss from sharp dip in citations unknown

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

Metropolitan Police say it is not clear how a steep drop in tickets issued by automated speed cameras in recent months has affected program revenue, because motorists often pay their fines a month or two months after they are cited.

The Washington Times reported Sunday that the number of citations issued fell from 21,687 in February to 4,527 in March — a 79 percent decrease.

However, fines collected in those months — $1.88 million in February and $1.7 in March — were relatively stable. Police officials say the effect of the decrease in citations on revenue collections isn't immediately apparent because of lag time between when the citation is issued and when it is paid.

"Any time a violator is mailed a citation, they have 30 days from the point it was issued to pay," said Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. "So the citation usually isn't seen in the revenue until 30 to 60 days later when it is actually paid."

The department doesn't track paid citations by the date of violation — only by when they are paid, Miss Hughes said.

The lag time for ticket payments means the speed-camera program will likely face a steep revenue drop as officials calculate the money collected for citations issued in March. The program generated an average of about $2.5 million per month last year, when it collected a record $30.9 million.

The department is investigating why the number of citations fell so sharply in March. Miss Hughes said the police department is working with the city's Department of Motor Vehicles — which handles ticket processing for the program — to determine the reason.

"While the data is accurate, from a statistical standpoint we want to figure out what caused the decrease," Miss Hughes said. "It could've been a number of issues — a camera could have been down for a period of time, there could have been construction in an area, or weather may have affected the camera. We've requested all of this information from the vendor."

Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Dallas-based company, handles ticket processing in partnership with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions took over the maintenance contract for the city's automated traffic-enforcement program from ACS in March, and police say the split contract awarded for the cameras has caused difficulties in collecting and compiling information.

Miss Hughes said police should have the requested data from ACS by week's end.

The automated traffic-enforcement program has generated more than $172 million since 1999. The revenue from the program goes into the city's general fund.

The speed cameras have generated more than $131 million in fines since they were first deployed in 2001. The city's 50 red-light cameras have generated more than $40 million since their inception in 1999.

A citation for a red-light violation carries a $75 fine, and speeding violations can cost as much as $200, depending on how fast the vehicle was moving.

Police rotate 12 speed-camera-equipped vehicles through nearly 80 enforcement zones and keep 10 cameras at fixed locations. The number of cameras has not increased since October 2005.