Police: Vendor Researching Ways to Add More Info to Speed Cam Photos

Currently, residents receiving a Howard County speed ticket are unable to figure out how fast they were traveling based on photographs.


Howard County Police said the company they work with to operate speed cameras are researching ways to include more information on the photographs they provide on speeding tickets.

The research is being undertaken to increase motorist confidence in the program, according to a police spokesperson.

Questions have been raised about the accuracy of speed camera systems in the state after the Baltimore Sun reported on flaws in speed camera systems in Baltimore City.

The paper reported inaccurate speed-readings on tickets after calculating vehicles' speed using timestamps to the fraction of a second provided on photographs included with citations, and by measuring the distance vehicles traveled in the photographs.

Currently, Howard County’s speed ticket citations provide time stamp information rounded to the second. Howard County uses Xerox State and Local Solutions, the same vendor used by Baltimore.

“Although Baltimore City’s program, which shows the fraction of a second, uses the same vendor, they use different technology than Howard County’s program,” wrote county police spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn in an email. “That’s why the research is necessary and the answers are not as simple as it may seem.”

“Because the vendor’s time stamp complies with the written law, and has been approved in the courts, the issue of including the fraction of a second has simply never been discussed by the police program managers, or raised by a judge or legislator,” wrote Llewellyn. “But if there are program elements that go beyond the law’s requirements that would further address unwritten legislative intent or motorist confidence in the program, we are always open to hearing new ways to do that.”

As the state law is written, it only requires jurisdictions to issue citations with two time-stamped photographs proving the vehicle was in motion. However, photos rounded to the second make it impossible for motorists to determine how fast they were traveling, according to a federal judge who examined Maryland’s speed camera program.

“The two photographs of each violation that the devices take sometimes show the times of the snapshots only as the same second,” wrote Judge Steven A. Glazer, in the Journal of Business & Technology Law. “Without knowing the precise moment each photograph was taken, it is impossible to say for certain how fast a vehicle was going between the takings of the two photographs.”

Llewellyn pointed out that Howard County’s program has a number of safeguards.

For example, Howard County police employees operate the mobile vans, which use speed camera equipment leased from Xerox.  Xerox then formats the data and sends it back to police in a format they can review. The data and images are reviewed to make sure they meet the county’s criteria for a possible violation. If so, data from violations is sent from police back to Xerox, which formats the possible violations further.

“They have no control over the number they receive, or the locations where the violations come from and thus cannot control their income,” wrote Llewellyn. “If Howard sends 100 violations, Xerox is paid to process 100.”

Possible violations are then reviewed again by police, according to Llewellyn, and those that are determined to be accurate are sent back to Xerox where they are printed. The violations then come back to police, where they are reviewed again, and then mailed to the vehicles’ owners.

“[The speed camera program] is designed to maximize the safety of drivers on county roads, and private companies have no role whatsoever in determining how many citations are issued or how much revenue is collected,” said Police Chief William McMahon, in a statement. 

However, police did not comment on what data they review to determine if a violation occurred.

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Sean Colin December 14, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Frank, What about proving the cameras actually making the roads safer, not just raising money?
Sanchez December 14, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Any follow up from the Patch reporters regarding O'Malley's comment that paying these vendors per ticket violates the intent and the wording of the law he signed?
Frank in Elkridge December 14, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Contact your legislator if you think that should be part of the law. Since I am in favor of speed cameras, in principle, I only want to see them adhere to the spirit and intent of the existing law. I have seen articles that cite statistics that show average speeds decreasing where there are speed cameras. That would be completely logical. The assumption is that lower average speeds result in safer roads. Those kinds of safety statistics would come from SHA and DOT.
Sean Colin December 14, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Frank, If the intended goal of the cameras is to slow people down, wouldn't it make sense to make the vans as visible as possible? We do it with the school buses the children ride in, they are adorned with reflective tape, flashing lights, etc. I do not think it does any good to send a bill to someone two weeks after they allegedly speed, but having the vans presence known would make drivers slow down if needed.
Frank in Elkridge December 14, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Agreed, but some drivers will still speed no matter what.


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