The region’s largest advocacy group for motorists is urging the D.C. Council to hold oversight hearings on the city’s use of red-light and speed camera technology, citing a recent plea by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to keep the program so the city can continue to collect revenue.
In a letter sent earlier this month to three council members, Lon Anderson, an official with AAA Mid-Atlantic, wrote that an increasing number of motorists think the D.C. government is using the technology to raise money, not to protect lives, as D.C. police officials maintain.
“If we fail to resolve their doubt, concerns and uneasiness about the technology, the public … will lose confidence in the District’s law-enforcement efforts,” wrote Mr. Anderson, the group’s director of public and government relations. “Ultimately, it will result in the loss of public support.”
Mr. Anderson said AAA Mid-Atlantic, which serves more than 3.4 million members in the region, became concerned after it learned about a letter that Mr. Williams sent last month to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, in which the mayor asked the council to continue the city’s automated traffic-enforcement program in the District.
In the Dec. 16 letter, Mr. Williams cited the “urgent need” to collect revenue for the District, but did not mention public safety, despite previous assurances that the use of the technology is driven by concerns for safety, not profits.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and new chairman of the council’s Judiciary committee, said he is likely to schedule an oversight hearing as early as next month.
“I think there will be a hearing,” Mr. Mendelson said. “People see the cameras as nothing more than a revenue program. The power of those cameras is so great that … if it is just a speed trap, then it’s unfair.”
Mr. Williams’ letter sought approval of a $14.6 million contract extension between the D.C. government and Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Dallas-based company that operates the District’s red-light and speed camera program.
A spokeswoman for the mayor has said Mr. Williams views the technology as a way to improve traffic safety. Sharon Gang said earlier this month that Mr. Williams “has always felt that with the red-light cameras and the other equipment we use to catch people who are speeding, safety is our foremost goal.”
The mayor’s letter was sent to the council, with a copy of a proposed resolution seeking approval of the ACS contract. Unlike the mayor’s letter, the resolution included a sentence on public safety.
“Approval is necessary to allow the District to continue to receive the benefit of these automated traffic and enforcement equipment and services and to ensure the safety and well-being of District residents and the general public in the streets of the District of Columbia,” the resolution stated. The council voted 7-4 to approve the $14.6 million contract last month.
However, AAA said the mayor’s failure to include a statement about public safety in his letter to Mrs. Cropp undercuts repeated statements by Metropolitan Police Department officials who say the cameras maintain public safety and have nothing to do with generating revenue.
“In his letter … the mayor failed to cite public safety as the overarching or compelling reason for the contract,” Mr. Anderson wrote. “In fact, he never mentioned public safety at all. This omission only adds further urgency to the need for oversight hearings.”
AAA sent its letter to Mrs. Cropp and council members Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican.
Mrs. Patterson previously served as chairman of the Judiciary committee before taking over the council’s Education committee earlier this month. Mrs. Patterson, who received AAA’s letter, is urging Mr. Mendelson to hold hearings on the issue, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Patterson said.
Meanwhile, the District’s camera program is expanding.
Police officers have added the fixed-location speed cameras at the 4700 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW, the 2800 block of Benning Road NE, the 100 block of Michigan Avenue NE and the 5400 block of 16th Street NW.
The District will begin to issue tickets to speeders caught at the four new locations tomorrow.
Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 designated spots throughout the District. The program has generated more than $63 million in fines. The fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.
Police say the program has helped make the roads safer, pointing to statistics that show that aggressive speeding has dropped from one in three motorists in July 2001 to one in 25 motorists in recent months.
Officials also point to a more than 70 percent decline in cars’ running red lights at intersections with cameras.