Speed cameras raise common sense questions


Woodlawn Drive

The camera on Woodlawn Drive monitors traffic in front of Woodlawn High School

 
By Michael Huber
 

The first data report has been compiled from speed cameras in 15 school zones across Baltimore County.  The Baltimore County Police report highlights the number of citations distributed from the cameras’ first activation on July 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011.  With 89,674 total citations handed out across the county in that time span, it is hard to argue that the cameras were not needed.

The camera at Woodlawn High School on Woodlawn Drive caught nearly 13,000 speeders over the eight month period.  Cameras at Parkville High School, Padonia Elementary, Old Court Middle School and Milford Mill Academy each captured over 11,000 violators.  With numbers like this the speed camera advocates applaud the bill and its results.

Yes, these five school zones are prime examples of the program’s success,  but the questions begin to form when the other school zones are dissected.  Five other school zones selected to receive the speed cameras totaled less than 2,000 violations over the same eight month period.  Woodlawn Middle School, Dulaney High School, Landsdowne High School, Hawthorne Elementary, and Sparrows Point High School were all targeted as school zones with speeding issues, despite producing dramatically fewer citations than most of the other school zones.

Considering that there are over 200 public school zones in Baltimore County, the question begins to shine through, were these schools selected because of previous research and data signaling the need for the speed cameras?  Or were they strategically placed in each county district where those council members had voted in favor of the cameras?

Steve Bailey is a former Deputy State’s Attorney and co-chairman in Baltimore County for a nationwide group called Americans for Prosperity.  Bailey was part of a team which aimed to find a middle ground for the speeding issue in Baltimore County.  He and others who opposed the speed camera plan, felt that permanent speed cameras in a school zone were not the right answer, financially and safety wise.

Steve Bailey is a co-chairman for Americans for Prosperity

“We were in favor of placing officers in the school zones, not only would they be able to take radar, but the presence of a police officer would limit the chances of other potential crimes in or around the school zone,”  said Bailey

Bailey also points out that there was a “no-bid” process when finding a company to install the speed cameras.

“Affiliated Computer Services is well connected to certain political parties, in particular they were lobbying for former County Executive Jim Smith who was pushing for the speed camera bill to be passed as well as Governor O’Malley, who was helping to push it through the General Assembly.”

Not only were no other companies brought in for the bidding of the speed cameras, but Baltimore County accepted ACS’ profit split which would give ACS 85-90 percent of the revenue generated by the citations, while the county would keep only 10-15 percent.  Five other jurisdictions in the state currently keep 60 percent of the profit generated by its speed cameras.   If this is Baltimore County’s evidence that this is not a revenue generator, then the question becomes, if we are going to have the cameras, why would we keep such a small part of the revenue?

The two current County Council members who are opposed to the speed camera bill, Todd Huff and Sean Marks agree that the bill was passed too quickly, and that there was no reasonable data to confirm cameras at all of these locations.

“The numbers don’t add up, the money just doesn’t make sense, ” said Huff, “it’s asinine.”

Councilman Marks was not directly available for comment, but his primary aid, Julie Ann Grimm was able to speak on his behalf about why he opposed the bill.

“Councilman Marks didn’t like that the bill was introduced and passed in such a quick manner,” said Grimm, “It was as if the bill was a foregone conclusion without any real thought into its logistics.”

According to Bailey when the original plan for speed cameras was offered to legislation it was denied, because the plan was to assign speed cameras to certain roads, highways etc. without any real rhyme or reason.  This would have allowed speed cameras to go up almost anywhere if there was a local push for them.  There was not a huge support for the general addition of speed cameras on the first go around.

“It wasn’t until the bill was reformed to tie in speed cameras with school zones and road work zones, that’s when the support started to catch on.” Said Bailey. “Then the consensus  became, who isn’t going to want safer school zones and road work zones, at first glance, why would anyone oppose this, right?”

“Obviously I am in favor of safer streets and highways, but there is more than one way to handle this problem. People choose sides instead of finding the most efficient way to handle this situation.” Said Bailey.

According to Cpl. Patrick Zito, Traffic Coordinator at the Cockeysville precinct in Baltimore County, there are at least five schools in the county which are requesting to be part of the second wave of schools that would receive speed cameras over the summer of 2011.

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