- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

D.C. officials yesterday defended the city's automated speed and red-light enforcement programs, even though a California judge on Tuesday threw out about 300 citations based on the technology.
"The red-light and speed cameras have flaws," said D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. "But something had to be done to address residents' concerns over speeding. I support the cameras, absent any viable alternative."
But opponents of photo-radar and red-light cameras said the fact that a private, for-profit company operates the cameras on commission under municipal contracts is an inherent conflict of interest.
"It is up to elected officials and police to put in a fire wall to separate the law-enforcement functions from contract functions," said AAA spokesman Lon Anderson. "That fire wall has not been maintained in the District. Here, officials have entered into a contract that is supposed to cite thousands of motorists in order to pay for the program — not decrease the number of offenders."
The cameras have decreased traffic violations by 54 percent, said Kevin Morison, director of corporate communications for the Metropolitan Police Department.
"The history of the program shows that the program has been able to change behavior," he said. "And that is at no cost to the taxpayers."
On Tuesday, San Diego Judge Ronald L. Styn tossed out 292 tickets issued under an automated red-light camera program, saying the city vested too much power in the private company that operates the devices. Last month, Judge Styn ruled that San Diego had surrendered almost complete control of the system to Lockheed Martin IMS, the company that installed the system at 19 intersections.
Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, has sold its photo traffic-enforcement division to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas.
Judge Styn ruled the photographs of cars running red lights were "untrustworthy" because the company received $70 per ticket and the city government did not supervise the program well.
The San Diego decision, the first major court ruling on camera programs, will not affect similar programs around the country, most opponents and proponents said.
Todd Taylor, counsel for the Howard County Police Department, said the judge found San Diego's agreement with the company unconstitutional under California law. Howard County has one of the longest-running and largest camera-enforcement programs in the country.
"The opinion was favorable to the general programs," Mr. Taylor said. "The judge found the programs constitutional and that there were no right-to-privacy issues involved."
Richard Diamond, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, called the decision "a major victory."
"This is the first time that a court or anyone has taken a full and thorough look at the evidence, and this court ruled that there was a clear problem," he said. "There is no direct legal connection between that decision and the District's program. Still, these programs do an injustice to a person's right to face his accusers and be presumed innocent while having no clear benefit to public safety."
In San Diego, the company issues tickets with little or no oversight by the police department.
Locally, police departments oversee each ticket issued, and the company makes $32.50 for every $75 red-light ticket and $29 for every $30-$200 speeding ticket.


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