- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Other jurisdictions using photo-radar cameras to ticket speeders have avoided some of the problems and criticisms the District has incurred in its automated speeding-fine program.
For example, in Portland and Beaverton, Ore., photo-radar cameras take snapshots of vehicles' license plates front and back and of drivers to ensure positive identification. In the District's program, only the rear license plate is photographed.
In addition, Portland and Beaverton police use marked police vehicles and post signs identifying camera-enforcement zones. The District uses unmarked cars and doesn't identify enforcement zones.
Most important, Portland and Beaverton officers are required to appear in court to support speeding-camera tickets. The District relies on the cameras' photos in traffic adjudication.
Meanwhile, National City and Campbell, Calif., which had photo-radar programs similar to the District's, have been forced to drop the programs because of a lack of community and government support.
"We no longer use photo-radar. We did have it in the late 1980s and early 1990s," said officer David Dehaan, who works in traffic enforcement in Campbell, Calif.
Officer Dehaan said the program lost support from the community and that the legislature refused to support it after residents began complaining about the fairness of the program. He also said residents didn't see how traffic safety could be improved if the city could not assess points to speeders using the cameras. The city legislature agreed.
National City officials said they were forced to abandon their program eight years ago for the same reasons. Both cities' photo-radar programs were run similarly to the District's. Both programs had cameras that took pictures of only a car's rear plates not the driver and both did not require officers to appear in court.
"State law in Oregon requires us to use marked vehicles, and the sign can be no closer than 100 yards and no further than 400," said Pat Nelson, manager of the Portland-Beaverton photo-radar program.
"Anytime someone pleads innocent and asks for a trial the officer has to appear and give testimony," said Mr. Nelson, who was a policeman for 32 years.
Portland and Beaverton received authority from the Oregon Legislative Assembly to do photo-radar in 1995. Their program vendor, like the District's, is run by Affiliated Computer Services. They were required to do a two-year study before implementing the enforcement.
The District was not required to do a study. Metropolitan Police Department officials said they conducted analysis of streets and neighborhoods where speeding and red-light running were consistent problems. Streets with rampant violations of traffic laws were targeted during the monthlong warning period and also during enforcement.
The Washington Times reported a number of errors that occurred in the District's photo-radar program in the last month. George Brill, 58, owner of a Germantown-based plumbing company received a ticket for going 27 mph in a 25 mph zone.
"That ticket was voided because the officer improperly set the threshold for the road on the [radar camera]," said D.C. police spokesman Kevin P. Morison.
Eastover Auto Supply told The Times that tickets with inaccurate posted speed limits were being issued on Malcolm X Avenue on Sept. 29 and Oct. 27. The camera was set for a 25 mph zone, but the speed limit on Malcolm X Avenue is 30 mph.
Mr. Morison said D.C. police reviewed the limits on Malcolm X Avenue and "verified that the speed limit was incorrectly programmed into the camera's computer." He said the department was in the process of voiding those tickets.
A ticket received from Robert Bouchard of McLean said, "He was going 54 mph on SE/SW Freeway where the speed limit was 35 mph." But it was discovered that the officer was ticketing in the wrong location on the highway. The limit is 40 mph where the officer monitoring the camera was stationed.
Mr. Morison said that ticket would be re-evaluated and sent again, because Mr. Bouchard was speeding in both zones. Mr. Bouchard, 72, said, "Any errors on a ticket should make it voidable."
"These kinds of errors are a matter of not paying attention to detail," Mr. Nelson said.
He said the errors hurt the program and are compounded by the program's ability to dish out 600 or more tickets per day on he same road.
"In this program, with the number of tickets issued per day, it can always be argued that if one error is found there could be hundreds of others," Mr. Nelson said.
Sgt. Dave Pearson of the Fort Collins, Colo., Police Department said that argument is "right on the money." He said officers should not be allowed to set the threshold or the speed limit on the photo-radar devices because of the mistakes that can occur.
"I think what you all have is a training issue, not a system problem," Sgt. Pearson said.
Fort Collins' speed-camera program is run exactly like Portland's and Beaverton's. The camera's threshold is set before an officer gets in the car. Speed limits are set by a code system in the computer's software.
"All our officers do is put in the code for the street they are on, and the computer automatically sets the limit and the appropriate threshold," Sgt. Pearson said.
The Fort Collins program vendor is Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. a competitor of ACS.
"Our contract is up next year. ACS and Redflex are currently bidding on our new contract," Sgt. Pearson said.
Fort Collins has been operating speed cameras for six years with only one vehicle. Their contract with Redflex is a flat-fee monthly contract. The flat-fee contract eliminates the idea of a cash cow, Sgt. Pearson said.
The District is negotiating a flat-fee contract with ACS. There has been no indication from officials when that contract will be finished.


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