Monday, June 27, 2005

The Metropolitan Police Department collected nearly $2.58 million in fines from its automated speed cameras in May — the most lucrative month in the program’s four-year history.

Officials said they broke the income-revenue record, despite just 3.4 percent of the 907,299 vehicles monitored by the cameras exceeding speed limits.

Police officials said they have no clear explanation for the record-setting month, except that a high number of the vehicles might have been traveling at excessive speeds, which results in larger fines.

“We haven’t raised the [penalty], so it’s not because of that,” said Kevin Palmer, a police department spokesman. “You speed more, you pay more.”

Officials also reported a record-low 3.1 percent of motorists were caught by the cameras in March and April and that the number of violations has declined since January 2004.

Of the 31,016 speeding violations in May, 23,716 were for going 11 to 15 mph faster than the speed limit, which is a $50 fine.

Another $50 is added for each additional 5 mph beyond the limit, with a maximum fine of $200. Of the tickets received in May, 290, or less than one percent, were for the maximum fine for traveling more than 25 mph above the limit.

The automated system, which now has 10 mobile speed-cameras, has generated more than $75 million in fines since it started in August 2001.

So far this year, the system has generated more than $10 million in fines, with monthly revenues exceeding $2 million in January, February, April and May.

The city’s automated system for photographing red-light runners has generated more than $31 million in fines since 1999.

Police and city officials say the program makes streets safer by discouraging speeders and those who run red lights.

However, critics say the program focused more on revenue than safety.

For example, the speed zone in the 2800 block of New York Avenue in Northeast that routinely generates thousands of citations is a six-lane highway exiting and entering the city, but is not close to homes, hospitals, schools or other safety zones.

Lt. Byron Hope, the police department’s traffic-safety coordinator, said officers have indefinitely stopped monitoring the stretch.

Earlier this month, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, introduced a bill calling for the city and Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, to re-evaluate the posted speed limits on streets where speed cameras are used.

The bill, co-sponsored by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, also states fines from the program should be allocated to the city’s highway trust fund.

Police plan to expand the program, despite declining numbers.

The number of mobile cameras will increase from 10 to 12 by the end of this year, while 10 red-light cameras, which catch drivers running red lights, will be added to the existing 40.

Earlier this month, a new red-light camera and five stationary radar speed cameras were added to the network of five existing stationary ones.

Lt. Hope said the new locations are still in the testing phases.

In February 2004, the city’s first stationary radar camera was activated, in the 600 block of Florida Avenue in Northeast.

The location, a 25 mph zone next to Gallaudet University, generated the most citations last month.

Police said 2.47 percent, or 4,474 of the 181,077 monitored vehicles were speeding at the location, with the highest recorded speed at 81 mph.

The percentage is down from the camera’s first month of operation, when 11.5 percent, or 2,523 of the 21,873 vehicles monitored, were speeding.

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