It was a fall afternoon in 2013 when the Metropolitan Police Department announced the rollout of a slew of next-generation traffic enforcement cameras that officials promised would make city streets safer.
Assistant Police Chief Lamar Greene stood next to a portable camera at 12th and Taylor streets in Northeast and explained to reporters how new types of traffic cameras would soon issue tickets to motorists who blocked intersections, ran stop signs and ignored pedestrians in crosswalks.
But nearly a year and a half after the supposed rollout of the cameras — and despite posting a list of the cameras’ locations on MPD’s website — police haven’t deployed some of the new technology and haven’t finished studies to determine where the cameras should go.
D.C. lawmakers in 2012 approved a three-year, $24 million contract with Florida-based company Sensys America for multiple types of traffic cameras, including gridlock models that would capture motorists who “block the box” and others that would issue tickets when vehicles fail to stop at crosswalks when pedestrians are present.
In the time since the November 2013 announcement, the police website incorrectly listed the location of 20 gridlock cameras and 16 pedestrian cameras that the department says were never actually deployed. It was only after an inquiry by The Washington Times about tickets issued by the cameras that the department removed the incorrect listing of cameras from its website.
A police spokesman said the department does not know where the cameras will be placed because it is still engaged in location reviews, despite having previously listed locations where the new cameras were to be deployed.
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“We are still conducting surveys to ensure we continue to focus our enforcement efforts in areas where they are needed the most,” said MPD spokesman Lt. Sean Conboy. “As we deploy additional cameras, we will provide notice to the public, which will include the usual 30-day warning period.”
The surveys include a review of complaints police receive about driver behavior at the locations, traffic and crash data, a physical evaluation of the site for feasibility, and an evaluation of nearby facilities such as schools.
Police also cautioned that they are still testing the equipment.
As a result, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said she hasn’t established a firm deadline for when she’d like to have the cameras activated.
“I don’t like to rush them because I want to make sure we do it right, so I didn’t give them a deadline,” Chief Lanier said. “But I know they are just about finished with the surveys.”
The delay of the rollout comes amid declining revenue from other traffic cameras, most notably speed and red light cameras positioned throughout the city. The District’s revenue from traffic cameras took a severe hit last year, in part because the police department has had trouble maintaining the cameras during cold weather. Police also said the cameras were proving effective, as drivers have reduced their speed and fewer tickets are being issued.
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The cameras raked in $74.8 million in fines in fiscal 2013, but the figure dropped to $30.6 million in fiscal 2014, according to data provided by the District’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
The decline exacerbated a $193 million budget gap that officials will have to address in the coming fiscal year.
The total amount the District pays for the new cameras could fluctuate depending on the number of cameras bought. Purchase orders from MPD show that the District has paid Sensys $17.1 million for equipment. That includes a $400,000 purchase order issued in January to modify the original Sensys contract to include replacement and repairs that are not covered under warranty.
Despite the delays, the department plans to move forward with the cameras.
“We remain committed to implementing these new safety initiatives in a responsible manner to best improve road safety within the District,” Lt. Conboy said.