- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reports of malfunctioning and neglected red-light and speed cameras in the District could diminish public support for the city’s automated traffic-enforcement program, an official with the country’s largest automobile-owner group said yesterday.

“This could be the tipping point,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The public has long harbored suspicions about the program. Now these reports are confirming what some motorists have suspected. The question becomes can the integrity of the program recover?”

The new contractor for the city’s automated enforcement system reported to the D.C. Council this week that 27 of the District’s 50 red-light cameras were malfunctioning or damaged.

Two of the fixed-location speed cameras also haven’t been certified in more than eight months, according to American Traffic Solutions (ATS), a Phoenix-based company that took over the contract from Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (ACS) Tuesday.

Citing the organization’s recent biennial motorists’ poll, Mr. Townsend said 47 percent of motorists in the region think the cameras’ main purpose is to raise money. Only 24 percent of those polled think the cameras make streets safer.

He called the findings, first reported Tuesday in The Washington Post, a “major public-relations nightmare” that ultimately could sway the cameras completely out of public favor.

AAA in 2005 designated the District a “strict-enforcement area.” It was the first time in the organization’s 107-year history that an entire city has received such a distinction.

Edward A. Hamilton, a Metropolitan Police Department employee who oversees the photo-enforcement and traffic-violation system, said he doesn’t think the findings will change residents’ perception of the cameras.

“The public can expect more reliable and accomplished maintenance and repair from [the police department],” he said. “The technology was never a point of question. … We see this as an opportunity, not a setback.”

Police and ATS officials inspected all the cameras last night, Mr. Hamilton said. The company is expected to report its findings today.

Mr. Hamilton said both the department and former vendor ACS “did not exercise due diligence,” and that police should have exercised better contract oversight. But he said the department was bewildered by claims made to the D.C. Council by ATS, many of which were misleading or inaccurate.

D.C. police already knew about many of the malfunctioning cameras, having accompanied ATS on their system inspections, Mr. Hamilton said.

“And of the 23 non-working cameras, 14 were fixed within days,” he said.

Though the two stationary speed cameras did not receive annual certificates of inspection last year, police officers conduct daily checks of the cameras to ensure their accuracy, he said.

The city’s 50 red-light cameras have generated more than $40 million in fines since their inception in 1999. The speed cameras — 12 affixed to vehicles and 10 stationary — have generated more than $128 million since they were installed beginning in 2001.

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