- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

On Thursday, the government of the District of Columbia installed a permanent photo-enforcement camera to issue alleged speeding violations. The traffic camera is on the 600 block of Florida Avenue, N.E., and it will process $200 fines. It is sure to be a big money-maker for a city already taking in tens of millions from photo enforcement. Unfortunately, this is the only police issue on which the district is ahead of the national curve, as no other municipality in America has installed a permanent speeding camera. There are good reasons for the reserve elsewhere.

In Baltimore, for example, Judge Gary Bass has been striking down red-light tickets that are contested. The federal standard for yellow-light lengths is three to six seconds. Maryland law backs this up. In Baltimore, however, between 20 percent and 35 percent of yellow light sequences are less than three seconds. Judge Bass told WBAL television that approximately one-third of his cases for red-light running involve yellow lights that are in violation of the federal and state standard. Across the country, it is common practice for yellow lights to be shortened when photo-enforcement cameras are installed. Speed cameras are even more open to misuse than red-light cameras.

In California last month, a class-action lawsuit was settled out of court to remedy problems with the traffic cameras operated by Del Mar Ventures, which agreed to pay back fines distributed between 1996 and 1998. Nationwide, the number of cases of malfunctioning or misprogrammed traffic-camera equipment is growing. Most motorists are not aware that traffic cameras are operated by private corporations which get a cut of the ticket profits — a clear financial incentive to be overzealous in distributing violations.

Washington currently has 39 red-light cameras and numerous moveable speed cameras. The new permanent speed camera is part of Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey’s stated goal to make Washington more like his model city of London, where more than 150,000 cameras record the movements of Londoners up to 300 times a day. These are used for traffic control, crime-fighting and general surveillance. There is so much abuse in Britain’s camera-enforcement programs that vigilantism to destroy the machines is growing, and the police officer who first instituted scameras has since renounced them. That is an example the District should follow.

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