- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2013

Montgomery County police are investigating reports of speed camera vandalism an average of once every week, with the most recent incident involving three cameras, spray paint and swastikas.

Police in the county said at least 44 incidents of vandalism have been reported this year, and while spray paint is most often involved in the past some vandals have even used feces to damage the cameras.

The devices damaged this week were located along a roughly 1-mile stretch of Quince Orchard Road between Route 28 and Great Seneca Highway. One camera is under the jurisdiction of the city of Gaithersburg.

Police received a call from a passer-by at about 11:47 p.m. Wednesday to report the damage. By Thursday morning the cameras had been cleaned and police were investigating the incident, which carries a destruction of property charge and possibly hate crime charges because of the swastikas, Montgomery County spokeswoman Angela Cruz said.

“The lenses were spray painted,” Ms. Cruz said. “Also a swastika was painted on the back of two of them.”

She said another instance of speed camera tampering was reported Tuesday, and while she would not elaborate on the damage, Ms. Cruz said police did not believe the vandalism was related to Wednesday night’s graffiti.

Gaithersburg Police Officer Dan Lane said the city’s camera that was vandalized was also up and running again Thursday.

“I know the vendor was out there today cleaning it,” he said, adding that the city has had its share of camera vandals.

“One had feces thrown at it but a majority of them are spray painted,” Officer Lane said.

Montgomery County council member Philip M. Andrews, a Democrat and chairman of the county’s public safety committee, called the vandalism “deplorable.”

“Not only is vandalism illegal, but in this case it’s harming public safety,” Mr. Andrews said. “Speed cameras are put in areas where there’s a history of collisions or an increased risk to pedestrians.

Mr. Andrews said he lives near Quince Orchard Road and remembered “a lot of speeding prior to the placement of the speed cameras.”

“It’s a road you really need people going at the speed limit,” he said.

Montgomery County currently operates 93 cameras, but an outside vendor handles the cleanup and maintenance on the cameras, Ms. Cruz said.

Officer Lane said Gaithersburg has 11 pre-approved sites for speed cameras, and uses five portable cameras, two mobile vans and two fixed cameras.

In 2007, Montgomery County became the first Maryland jurisdiction to establish a speed camera program, and soon after police began handling calls for camera vandalism. In the past six years, black spray paint has been used and yellow paint pellets. Vandals have scratched the camera’s glass lenses and even stolen computer parts they’ve pried open from the cameras.

Despite the crimes, including the most recent swastika graffiti, Mr. Andrews said a majority of the public supports the speed camera program.

“It’s a small minority that are resorting to this kind of thing,” he said. “The speed cameras were approved through a democratic process. They’re not something imposed by someone not accountable to the public. It does work. It frees up police officers to focus on the sorts of things that only police officers can do, such as investigating crimes.”