The District expects to collect more than $160 million in traffic fines by 2004 from automated law-enforcement cameras designed to nab red-light runners and speeders, according to contracts obtained by The Washington Times.
The city’s contract with Lockheed Martin IMS, which designs and operates the systems, indicates the District is counting on sending out an estimated 80,000 new speeding tickets a month by the time the program is fully operational on Aug. 1. There were only 10,000 speeding tickets issued in all of last year in the District.
The cameras have rankled privacy rights advocates, including some members of Congress.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, yesterday told The Times the use of red-light and photo radar cameras are an unwarranted extension of government power. The District’s infatuation with surveillance of its citizens could hurt the city in funding battles on Capitol Hill, Mr. Barr warned.
“It’s a very legitimate issue,” Mr. Barr said. “Now an outside corporation and the District of Columbia have a clear financial interest in people breaking the law.”
Mr. Barr has joined a growing chorus of lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, concerned about the electronic surveillance of ordinary Americans. He cited the face-recognition video-surveillance technology used in surveying 100,000 unsuspecting faces in Tampa Bay during this year’s Super Bowl as an ominous sign of things to come.
“American citizens and visitors alike are under constant surveillance, often aware they are being watched, but unable to do anything about it,” Mr. Barr said.
The contracts between the District and Lockheed call for 39 red-light cameras across the city and a modification that authorizes Lockheed to operate the photo radar system.
According to the red-light camera contract, signed in 1999, Lockheed expects to net more than $44 million by 2004, the year the contract ends. The District’s share is expected to top $117 million.
The District has already taken in more than $12 million from over 230,000 paid red-light violations since the cameras were installed.
According to the contract for the photo radar cameras, the city’s share of new revenue from speeding fines is expected to be about $11 million annually.
Those fines will come from an estimated 80,000 new speeding tickets generated each month by five Ford Crown Victorias outfitted with $100,000 worth of radar equipment. There is also a fixed camera, known as a speed-on-green unit, that will be deployed to catch speeders.
The photo radar contract is a modification to the red-light contract and has still not been signed, a source said.
The radar units, when they were tested at 125 sites, nabbed an average of 144 speeders per hour, according to the contract.
D.C. police officials said the units are being rotated at about half that many sites, but police spokesman Kevin P. Morison said the 80,000-citations-per-month figure cited in the contract is an accurate estimate.
The District issued a total of about 10,000 speeding tickets last year, according to police traffic coordinator Lt. Patrick Burke.
The citations will cost speeders from $30 to $200, with $29 of each paid ticket going to Lockheed. For red-light violations, Lockheed receives $32 for each $75 ticket that is paid, with the red-light camera contract assuming a 75 percent payment rate.
“The number of violations we have or tickets we write per month will continue to be a subset of the speeders,” said Mr. Morison, who strongly defended both the photo radar and red-light cameras, saying they save lives and prevent accidents.
The cameras do not invade drivers’ privacy, Lt. Burke said, because all the camera does is snap a picture of a license plate.
“It’s not like we are taking a congressman’s picture,” Lt. Burke said.
The photo radar contract also outlines, as does the red-light contract, how Lockheed will pay off-duty D.C. police officers overtime to monitor equipment.
There were no apologies from Mr. Morison for the amount of money the camera-captured violations will funnel into the District’s general fund.
“We are catching a much higher percentage of people running red lights” with the cameras, he said. And using the cameras, he said, “frees up police resources for other community policing priorities.”
Speeding ruins lives, Mr. Morison said, citing the 56 percent of traffic fatalities last year due to high speed.
“The District government isn’t in the business to get people to speed, it’s to get people to stop speeding,” he said.
But both Mr. Barr and Mr. Armey think otherwise.
“It sort of raises the specter of the old speed traps that we had years ago where local jurisdictions were dependent upon that money” collected from speeders, Mr. Barr said.
Armey spokesman Richard Diamond said the contracts show that the District is committing “highway robbery” in using the cameras as well as violating drivers’ privacy rights.
The District’s use of the photo radar cameras which Congress approved last week as part of a military supplemental spending bill shows the District has turned law enforcement into a source of revenue, Mr. Diamond said.
“They are trying to exploit underposted speed limits and cash in on motorists driving with the flow of traffic,” Mr. Diamond said. “They are shaking down commuters, tourists and D.C. residents.”