- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

The private company that runs the city's automated traffic ticketing cameras and gets a cut of each fine for speeding and red-light running is far too involved in a driver's fate, say officials at the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication.
The company, Affiliated Computer Services, not only helps decide who gets ticketed but also is the first to get its hands on the mailed-in appeals of drivers, who have only 30 days to file their challenge.
Adjudication officials want a system in which they not a private company or the Metropolitan Police Department control the paperwork of drivers who believe they have been wronged.
Too much can go wrong the way things are now, they say.
Yesterday, The Washington Times reported the plight of D.C. resident Angela Brock-Smith, who was ticketed by camera for speeding on Southern Avenue in Southeast in a pickup truck she doesn't own and has never driven. The license plate was partially obscured by a trailer hitch.
She received the ticket Sept. 28. Her appeal was received by the private company Oct. 3. The traffic adjudication board, however, could not find her file when The Washington Times first inquired about the case Thursday, Jan. 24.
"We don't have any information regarding Miss Smith's adjudication package," a D.C. motor vehicles official said.
The package was discovered buried in the files yesterday by an adjudication employee.
"We did find Miss Smith's package, and the ticket will be administratively dismissed," said Regina Williams, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
The handling of the ticket given to Miss Smith has raised new questions about the oversight and money collection of the automated traffic-enforcement program.
The D.C. traffic bureau does not have regular access to records on tickets given to motorists by the red-light and photo-radar cameras, officials said. The vendor for the cameras, ACS, maintains the records.
"Currently, we use what ACS gives us," Ms. Williams said.
D.C. police spokesman Kevin P. Morison said the District's Department of Motor Vehicles, which oversees traffic adjudication, and the police department are working on a new computer system that will electronically transport the records for automated traffic tickets to the bureau.
The adjudication bureau has had other bones to pick with the company and D.C. police.
Two months ago, the bureau told the Metopolitan Police Department and ACS to stop dismissing tickets that were sent out because of computer or human error because only the bureau has the power to dismiss tickets.
"If they dismiss the tickets before they get to us, there is no problem, but once we get a ticket, if they void it, our system has no record of that unless they [D.C. police] notify us," Ms. Wiliams said.
The police and the company complied, but the D.C. traffic bureau is left with the job of dealing all over again with appeals that were dismissed by police.
"Bureau of Traffic Adjudication now insists that only it can rule on all photo-radar and red-light camera tickets," said D.C. police spokesman Kevin P. Morison in a story published in The Times yesterday.
For special circumstances such as Miss Smith's, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's office must now send a letter to the traffic bureau to have the ticket voided, which it will do, Mr. Morison said.
D.C. police voided a large number of tickets reported by The Times in November mailed to motorists on Malcolm X Avenue SE. The computer determined that the speed limit was 25 mph, when the real limit was 30 mph.
Some area motorists had already paid the fine. Those drivers are not out of luck. They will get refund checks from the city.
The reimbursement of tickets voided after payment raised more questions in D.C.'s motor vehicles department as to where the money comes from, and whether ACS gives the city back the $29 it receives for each ticket paid.
Mr. Morison said the company will give back its cut of the fines.
"They invoice us at the end of each month. Tickets that are paid but later voided are marked as a credit in subsequent months," Mr. Morison said.
He added that Miss Smith's situation is rare because "every week we toss out dozens if not hundreds of tickets where the plates are not clear even if the person is actually in violation."
Maryland is having some of the same problems identifying license plates with its red-light camera technology.
Pictures taken by Maryland's red-light cameras are at times so blurry that an "M" on a license plate looks like an "N", or vice versa, said Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat.
Such mistakes snared two Cumberland men, who received $75 citations in the mail from Baltimore Police, each with a picture of a vehicle that did not belong to them.
Mr. Kelly, a Cumberland attorney, appealed on their behalf to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's office but simply received a form letter six weeks later saying the tickets still had to be paid.
Upset with the handling of the situation, Mr. Kelly introduced a bill in the General Assembly to monitor red-light cameras. His bill calls for a six-member task force, appointed by the governor, to ensure red-light camera integrity and prevent municipalities and private vendors from unjustly profiting from their use.


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