- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

D.C. Council members readily acknowledge problems with the city's red-light and speeding cameras, but no one so far is backing council member Jack Evans' suggestion that the District consider doing away with a program that is generating millions of dollars in revenue.
Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said the city needs to make changes to its contract with Affiliated Computer Services, the Texas-based company that operates the red-light and speeding cameras for the District. Mrs. Patterson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for oversight of the police department, said the contract will be on the agenda at the committee's Feb. 25 meeting.
"We will be getting into the contract with D.C. police at the hearing, and if there has been no movement, we will be upset," Mrs. Patterson said. "We will have to do what we can to get the police back on schedule in getting the new contract done."
Mrs. Patterson and other council members contacted by The Times want the contract with ACS to be changed to a flat fee. Under the current contract, ACS takes a cut of the revenue from every ticket generated by its cameras.
D.C. police say the contract changes are in the works.
The proposed flat-fee contract was sent to Mayor Anthony A. Williams last month, said Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer.
"The corporation counsel had some questions that were worked out when [the contract] went back to contracting," Chief Gainer said. "The new flat-fee contract is now back in the corporation counsel, and it should be approved in the next two weeks."
Mrs. Patterson and other council members, however, did not go as far as Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who told The Washington Times on Wednesday, "I hate the program." He said he was considering a motion to repeal the legislation authorizing the cameras.
The District's speed cameras, which have accounted for more than 160,000 automated tickets since the program was dramatically expanded in August, have been criticized by civil libertarians, who say the city is using law enforcement to raise revenue, and slammed by motorists, who say the tickets are riddled with errors.
Chief Gainer, responding to critics of the program on a WTOP radio broadcast yesterday, reiterated that the program has slowed motorists down and saved lives.
The program, the chief said, is administered fairly, and some of the human errors tickets with inaccurate speed limits, guessing games on obscured license plates, tickets for low-speed infractions have been fixed.
Chief Gainer also said the program is not targeting streets where police know they can catch the most speeders, as some critics have suggested. He said the program focuses on areas where the most crashes, injuries and speeding complaints have occurred.
The biggest change the chief wants to see is a new focus on late-night enforcement, when speeding is rampant. He said the District should be using the cameras after midnight, especially on weekends.
Records obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department Web site show that speeders are slowing down a bit in certain zones. The most dramatic decrease is in 35 mph zones. In August, the average speed was 43 mph. The current average speed on streets with a 35 mph speed limit is 40 mph as of December.
Average speeds have declined in 25- and 30-mph zones as well. The current average speed is 29 mph on streets with a 25-mph limit, down from 32 mph in August. On 30-mph streets, the average speed went from 35 mph to 33 mph.
But D.C. police have not used the cameras in 50-mph zones since November, and no enforcement has occurred in 40-mph zones since September.
Although speeding has decreased on some roads, the number of fines more than 40,000 each month since October has remained steady.
The city has collected $5,326,922 in fines since the program began. The city has taken in $3,170,310, while ACS has taken in $2,156,612. ACS takes $29 for every electronic ticket that is paid, regardless of its size.
Some council members are unhappy with the size of ACS' cut and are concerned about financial incentives for the company to issue as many tickets as possible.
Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, requested a joint hearing with her Public Works and the Environment Committee and Mrs. Patterson's Judiciary Committee on the radar enforcement in late October. Since then, she has said her questions about the potential for abuse in the program have been answered.
"Most of my concerns were allayed when Chief Ramsey told us a new, flat-fee contract was being negotiated and that speeding was declining," Mrs. Schwartz said.
Council members Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said they have concerns about the contract, but are satisfied the program is working.
"I am not gung-ho about the radar progam , but it does allow us to get more cops in the neighborhoods, and that is the payoff," Mr. Brazil said.
"There is room for criticism of the operation, and there is a profit motivation. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to make sure that it is not abused," Mr. Brazil said.
Mr. Graham said his neighborhood desperately needs the enforcement to slow down traffic. He said Maryland and Virginia commuters race into the city on 16th and 14th streets every morning and roar out on the same roads in the afternoon.
"I come from a neighborhood where we are not complaining that we have the cameras. We are complaining because we want them," Mr. Graham said.

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