- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

D.C. police officials said yesterday the system that catches speeding motorists on video is accurate but acknowledge that the people who program and operate it make mistakes.
Officials began defending the system after issuing 2,438 erroneous tickets in October and November. The system has generated 408,180 tickets since its start in August 2001.
"The errors that have occurred to date have been human errors, not problems with the technology," said Kevin Morison, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department.
He also said Chief Charles H. Ramsey wants to achieve an error rate of zero percent.
The Washington Times reported Saturday that the District and vendor Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas issued the tickets based on inaccurate speed limits on Porter Street NW and East Capitol Street NE.
The mistake also prompted Chief Ramsey to ask the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication to dismiss the tickets or reimburse motorists who had already paid the fines.
The mistakes on Porter Street occurred because D.C. crews changed speed-limit signs from 25 mph to 30 mph without telling police, officials said. And the problems on East Capitol Street were the result of an employee entering the wrong speed limit into the photo-radar system, said Janice Langley, a spokeswoman for Affiliated Computer Services.
"Though the system caught the errors and stopped further incorrect violations from being issued, there were violations in the system that we did not catch before they were mailed," she said. "We have apologized to the police department for our error and are reviewing our internal controls so we can take corrective action."
This is not the first time such errors have occurred.
Hundreds of erroneous tickets were churned out about this time last year, just after the program started.
For example, The Times reported in November 2001 that several delivery drivers from Eastover Auto Supply in Prince George's County received speeding tickets for exceeding an inaccurately entered speed limit of 25 mph on Malcolm X Avenue SE.
The speed limit posted on the road is 30, so the 5 mph discrepancy cost the drivers an extra $50 per ticket. The tickets were either dismissed or the drivers reimbursed, but D.C. officials emphasized that the motorists were still traveling faster than the posted speed limit. They made the same point yesterday about the problems on Porter and East Capitol streets.
The Times also reported that a Virginia commuter was ticketed on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway in mid-October 2001 when a photo-radar camera registered him going 54 mph in a 35 mph zone. But the freeway's posted speed limit where he was caught was 40 mph.
The officer operating the camera car was parked in the wrong location on the freeway, police officials said.
Officers are paid overtime to sit in the camera cars but do not tell the computer what the speed limit is for the monitored roads, police officials said last year. The officers instead enter a code, then the computer tells the officer the speed limit even if a sign that contradicts the machine is in plain sight. The limits are entered into the database by data-entry employees of ACS.
"We are continually looking for ways to improve our oversight of both the systems and the people who operate them," Mr. Morison said.


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