- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2013

The District’s automated traffic enforcement program increased its revenue by more than 100 percent from 2011 to 2012, jumping from $42.9 million to $95.6 million, according to figures released Thursday by the city.

The numbers highlight the year-by-year progress of the program from its inception in 2001, with the city on pace at this early stage in 2013 to possibly replicate if not exceed last year’s high-water mark.

The annual figures show a steady increase in revenue generated by the program — touted by police and city officials as a public safety measure — from 2001 through 2006. A steep drop-off in 2007 attributed to a large number of defective cameras was followed by a steady increase in subsequent years culminating in last year’s record-setting amount.

As of 2012, about half of U.S. states had adopted red-light cameras and more than 700 municipalities had either activated red-light cameras and other automated systems or were in the process of doing so, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which estimates 1 in 5 Americans reside in those jurisdictions.

In the District, the speed camera program came under fire recently after a police sergeant — a former radar instructor — claimed the program’s director, Lisa Sutter, a civilian, abused her authority and failed to maintain minimum performance standards.

Just this week, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan handed down an opinion to the Department of Motor Vehicles that allowed the agency to overturn its own hearing examiner, who recently dismissed a speeding ticket successfully appealed by Sgt. Mark Robinson. It was a sudden reversal that could have affected more than 14,000 area motorists who coughed up more than $1.8 million in traffic fines through similar citations in the Third Street Tunnel.

Sgt. Robinson pointed out deficiencies in the program to city officials in 2007, who until that time had made annual revenue figures available on the DMV’s website. That is no longer the case. The Washington Times obtained the annual figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The program started slowly in the District, according to the figures just released, with $17.5 million in revenue in 2002, the first full calendar year it was in effect. By 2006, the program had almost doubled its revenue intake to $31.4 million. In 2007, the program faltered, generating just $18.6 million, the second lowest amount since its inception, the figures state.

But the program, which has been run by Ms. Sutter since 2008, has made a stunning revenue recovery. Ms. Sutter, who “implemented a large ticket processing contract” at DMV as a consultant from May 2007 to September 2008, according to the social networking site LinkedIn, also worked from 2001 to 2007 as a program manager at Affiliated Computer Services, where she “served as Risk Manager for photo enforcement line of business.”

ACS, a subsidiary of Xerox that maintained the city’s speed cameras for D.C. police just prior to the 2007 revenue dip, currently has the speeding-ticket processing contract with DMV.

When pressed for details about that contract, DMV spokeswoman Vanessa Newton deferred to D.C. police.

“Yes, DMV has a contract with ACS for ticket management,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “However, [the Metropolitan Police Department] is the agency that is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the camera system.”

That system already has been a source of discussion in the D.C. Council. On Thursday, council member Tommy Wells, a Ward 6 Democrat who has proposed lowering automated enforcement fines, said there is no correlation between fines collected and speeds recorded by the cameras; rather, the impact on driver behavior derives from the mere fear of being caught on camera speeding, he said.

His challenge to the purported public safety goal of the program was rejected by city officials, however.

“We know there will continue to be more tickets from the cameras because the cameras are being expanded across the city,” Mr. Wells said, noting that speed-camera revenues will continue to outpace city revenue projections. “But it has to be a legitimate means to promote traffic safety, or there will be public pressure to suspend the program.

“People need to be ensured that these are not just speed traps designed to get into their pockets.”