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Baltimore County Makes Less Money From Speed Cameras

Decreasing citations show that the cameras are slowing drivers down. Fewer fines could mean the county may lose money on the program, opponents say.

Baltimore County’s speed cameras are issuing fewer citations, proving that drivers are slowing down in 15 targeted areas but also raising some concern that the program may end up losing money just as officials begin expanding it.

The county issued 76,248 citations between September 2010 and last month, collecting approximately $2.3 million in fines from 75 percent of the tickets issued, according to figures provided by the county Office of Budget and Finance.

Between September 2010 and December, the county’s 15 speed cameras issued 33,426 tickets. Between May and August, they issued 21,297 citations—a 36 percent decline.

The county pays nearly to ACS State and Local Solutions, or more than $2.2 million of the nearly $2.3 million in fines collected. That means the private contractor is making about 95 cents on every dollar collected, up from about 81 cents late last year.

At that rate, the speed camera program could eventually stop paying for itself, critics contend.

"For us this has never been about revenue," wrote county spokesman Don Mohler, in response to an email request. "It's always been about public safety and changing driving behavior, and the program is clearly doing that."

Of the money the county collected in the last 12 months, it kept slightly more than $107,000. It is not immediately clear if that covers the cost of the county employees who manage the program.

"Your numbers are in the ballpark," Mohler wrote. "It all depends on the snapshot of time that someone is looking at—it can range from as low as 80 cents to the 95 cents you reference. The longer it goes, the closer it is to the 95 (percent) because we are giving out fewer tickets, which is always what we wanted to do."

Moher wrote that the "county wanted drivers to slow down, make children safer—not earn revenue—it's always been about changing driver behavior and that is clearly happening."

Joseph Seehusen, co-chairman of the Baltimore County chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said he is concerned that the county is getting dangerously close to losing money on the program.

"I think the company writing the tickets is making money," Seehusen said. "Their business is making money."

Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit organization that supports smaller government and free market philosophies, opposes speed cameras.

A 2010 law authorizing speed cameras allowed the county to place the cameras in school zones only. Motorists are issued $40 citations when they exceed the posted speed limit by more than 12 mph.

Seehusen challenged the belief that the program is working, saying that drivers are still speeding but are slowing down just enough to avoid getting a ticket.

"The nasty little part is that I imagine a child being hit by car driving 25 mph is going to be less seriously hurt than a child hit by a car at 35 mph," Seehusen said. "What (the county) did was create a de facto speed limit of 35 mph in school zones."

"When do we begin to cut the program back?" Seehusen asked. "They're not working and they're not making money."

The decline in citations has been most stark since December, when 10,000 tickets were issued countywide. Since then, the number of tickets issued has dropped by nearly 50 percent. Between January and August the 15 cameras issued an average of 5,353 tickets per month, according to figures supplied by the county Office of Budget and Finance.

*Figures provided by the county Office of Budget and Finance.

Month Tickets Issued Tickets Collected September 2010 8,090 6,296 October 2010 6,795 5,237 November 2010 8,465 6,474 December 2010 10,076 7,796 January 2011 4,955 3,875 February 2011 5,009 3,880 March 2011 5,690 4,267 April 2011 5,871 4,297 May 2011 5,210 3,809 June 2011 4,589 4,275 July 2011 6,310 4,149 August 2011 5,188 2,302

In 2009, Police Chief Jim Johnson said the number of accidents in school zones drove the need for adding the cameras. Last year, a county police report showed that the as a result of the cameras.

Lt. Robert McCullough, a police spokesman, said in February that slowing drivers down, not the number of accidents, would be the key benchmark in determining the success of the program.

"The goal is to slow people down," McCullough said at the time in response to questions about the lack of a decline in the accident rate.

Patch first reported two weeks ago that the to new locations and place an additional camera in front of Perry Hall High School after the first of the year.

The three relocated cameras—in front of schools in Catonsville High School, Eastern Technical High in Essex and Middle River Middle School—will be .

In February, the council amended the law limiting the county to installing just 15 cameras in school zones. The in school zones across the county.

The county earlier this year also with ACS State and Local Solutions.

ACS State and Local Solutions, employing politically-connected Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs, helped in urging the council to allow for an unlimited number of cameras.  

ddbs00 September 30, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Coming soon to Baltimore County: speed cameras in places outside of school zones. Gotta make that money for ACS State and Local Solutions somehow. They have PR flacks and lobbyists to pay for.
Buzz Beeler September 30, 2011 at 02:37 AM
Isn't that's the way it's suppose to work. No tickie no washie. Or in English, no speeding, no tickets, no money.
Robert Armstrong September 30, 2011 at 04:11 AM
People just figure out where they are and slow down when they pass them and then just speed up afterwards. I was in New Zealand a couple of months ago and they have the mobile cameras like we have in the construction zones. They randomly place them every day so you never know where they are. It's a lot more effective. If you get 2 tickets your license is toast.
Cal Oren September 30, 2011 at 04:12 AM
I have been suggesting for the last year that if the goal TRULY is speed reduction, require that every camera flash a bright blue light that is visible far enough away that drivers going too fast could slow down and avoid a ticket. Then, when tickets from that location diminish, or if that location proves to produce few citations, just replace it with a fake one - an empty metal box that looks like the real thing. Those could be purchased for a very small sum, and the live, working cameras moved to new locations. Like the old shell game, the driving public would never know which cameras were real and which were decoys, and drivers would be reminded to check their speed when they saw a flashing blue light. This is really no different than the painted plywood cutouts of patrol cars that various jurisdictions used to use in strategic locations for the same reason.
Besides buying the favor of a company with a history of making large donations to the state Democrat party, what else could $2.3 million buy? A patrol officer making $50,000 is paid approximately $25 per hour. Overtime pay is time and half ($37.50 per hour). Two million, three hundred thousand dollars in fines would purchase 61,333 hours of police overtime. That would have allowed the county to pay for 8 hours of police overtime, for all 180 school days, in 42 school zones (nearly three times the number of schools with cameras). Let's see, are my kids safer attending a school with a camera that sends tickets out, two weeks after the infraction, to the registered owner of a car (not necessarily the offending driver) or are they safer attending a school that has a police officer present all school day deterring speeding and drug dealing and pedophiles?
Buck Harmon September 30, 2011 at 01:19 PM
People that drive fast will always do so... lets face it.. most people do not drive 25 in a 25 mph zone... the vast majority don't. People don't drive 30 in 30 zones.. ACS State and Local Solutions bank on these facts. I would be more interested in seeing which political connection is neatly tied to this sweet arrangement for ACS. Its always about the money with these deals...in one way or the other... no bid contracts being awarded?? Sounds like something that the good ol boy Carroll County Commissioners would pull off!
Ken Woelfer September 30, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Gee......They're NOT making money and NOT reducing accidents? Notice that they are being moved to 2 of the busiest roads in east Baltimore County? Mace ave, and Middle River road? Hmmmmmm............
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 01:43 PM
This definitely is a "sweet arrangement" for ACS, no doubt about that. If there are political connections associated with the original no-bid contract (it was a piggyback arrangement which I personally find to be a lazy approach for something of this magnitude), I dont have a problem with that as long as those connections were publicly disclosed and discussed prior to the acceptance of the contract and as long as the contract terms are fair and reasonable. If I recall correctly, the Council was presented with this time-sensitive contract within a week of taking office. Now that the contract is supposed to be bid out (that was announced in February), I hope each and every Councilmember is well versed in the current contract's terms, well apprised by the administration of the status of the current bidding process so they are fully prepared to vote, given sufficient time to review competing bids upon request, informed of any connections with bidders and given detailed information about each of the monetary costs incurred by the County to implement this program and the dedicated staff necessary.
Tim September 30, 2011 at 01:58 PM
What a great idea. Would never fly here though. Everyone's entitled to speed/break the law - just ask them!
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Robert, please dont encourage them! Those portable cameras cost more than the ones the County contracted for now. I think I read somewhere that they were close to $30,000 per month. The County cannot afford to lose any more money. On another note, I dont know how New Zealand can take someone's license away for 2 tickets when they cannot prove who was driving. Suspend the car's registration, maybe.
Tim September 30, 2011 at 02:31 PM
I totally agree with this. The costs on these are unbelievably bad.
Sean Tully September 30, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Wow. You aren't serious, are you?
Cathy September 30, 2011 at 03:51 PM
"Of the money the county collected in the last 12 months, it kept slightly more than $107,000. It is not immediately clear if that covers the cost of the county employees who maintain the cameras." So, the ~$12K per camera per month does NOT include vendor maintenance? Unbelievable. I'm much rather see the $2.2 Million spent on cameras be spent on speed bumps and similar traffic calming devices. At least that way the money would stay in the local economy by paying county workers or local contractors to install them.
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 04:18 PM
The County doesnt need ACS, and the sooner they realize that, the more money the County can collect from violators. There are only 15-16 cameras at present. You can put rookie officers there in 6-month shifts during the hours of operation. There is a new officer class graduating every 6 months-1 year. No way that the monthly cost of a rookie officer is $12,000 per month (unless they make $144,000 per year inclusive of benefits and pension). That rookie officer can issue speeding tickets for less than the speed which triggers the cameras now, and they can, effective tomorrow, also stop drivers to issue texting citations. They can cite people for running stop signs and run warrant checks. Cameras cant do that. Rookie officers need experience stopping vehicles and while its not the most glamorous of jobs to be sure for 6 months, it provides actual experience which is the building block of future police work. The County could make a killing financially off of violators and truly protect the public safety (not just alter behavior). Cameras aren't protecting anyone in any way that the presence of an actual officer couldn't. They are throwing money away. They could collect that money, all of it, implement traffic calming devices and dedicate a portion of the proceeds to police department.
Bryan P. Sears September 30, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Cathy: Apologies. that was a miscommunication between my editor and me. The point I had hoped to make was we didn't know the hard costs of the county employees who manage the program. Maintenance is included.
Cathy September 30, 2011 at 05:25 PM
No worries, Bryan. I think the point remains that a more cost effective solution to the speeding problem is out there. Our county council should look into it.
Buzz Beeler September 30, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Steve, glad to hear you comments. You should be where Scott is. Where was he in all of the issues in the county is involved in like the PUD's that use taxpayer money like a slush fund. Ya think the Thistle Landing wasn't a cooked deal? Steve hit em where it hurts. As the famous line goes, "The truth, they can't handle the truth!" Steve ever wonder how many county vehicles were caught on those cameras? The numbers would astound you.
walker September 30, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Everyone stop speeding. stop breaking the laws. stop killing kids walking across the street after school. stop speeding and driving crazy. deal with it. the cams are there because you people and your mothers fathers grandmothers grandfathers sisters brothers aunts cousins uncles sons and daughters cant do the speed limit in communities where little kids walk home from school and play.. who cares who is making money off it. who cares who isnt making money of it. WHO CARES - STOP SPEEDING AND STOP CRYING ABOUT IT.
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 06:21 PM
I care. By putting all their law enforcement efforts against speeding in one basket in these locations, they are overlooking the basics. No speed camera is going to prevent someone from racing through a pedestrian crosswalk. No speed camera is going to hop down and render assistance in an accident. No $40 fine is going to alter behavior in the long run. These people you speak of, they need points on their license. They need their licenses suspended or revoked. Give them points, the possibility of suspension or revocation, and possible arrest for failing to show up in court or pay their fine, that will alter their behavior. If the County is going to utilize these cameras, they need to make money off of them so they can implement additional calming devices and put money back into the police budget. The County's method is entirely dependent on a machine.
e September 30, 2011 at 07:18 PM
So The county noticed a problem of speeding on certain roads, and over time the speeding has proved to decrease in these troubled areas and proved to be effective. But apparantly effectiveness is not the key here, so the county decides to move the camera's to catch more speeders in another area. hmmmmmm Now it will cost the county more money to dismantle and re-set up these camera's. I agree with the post earlier about why not pay a police officer to sit at a school all day. We are in the land of wasting money and we do it well.
walker September 30, 2011 at 08:34 PM
k blue.. i agree. but until the court systems stop failing us and start putting people that break laws behind bars and taking away ones drivers licence there is nothing more they can do. you cant have an officer watching every street every time of the day its just not possible. the cams at least make people slow down when they get to them. if they choose to speed after that they still have to slow down before the cam. i think they should charge for speeding if caught at the cam instead of just fining them. or make the fines higher.
walker September 30, 2011 at 08:38 PM
most schools have an officer there already. name one middle school or high school that doesnt have one. then you have officers that are watching speeds but then your house gets broken into or some jerk robs a store or someone is beating someone else or someone is stabbed or hurt then your officer is called to that job away from the area of speeders. its all about people just doing the right thing. so many law breakers out there yet judges give them a little fine and send them out to do it again or worse. then back to court for another small fine. then back out again. its why crime goes up because people think they are above the law.
Buzz Beeler September 30, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Walker, you are spot on. MVA is a revolving door of incompetence. I can't count the number of times I've locked up people driving on a revoked or suspended license. It is the same issue across the board -- ACCOUNTABILITY! When I was supervising the Alcohol Unit most of the cased that came across my desk were repeat offenders. The sad part was that the courts did nothing to hold these people accountable. Some of them were brazen enough to drive to their DUI charge on a revoked license. Eventually we had to have surveillance on the parking lot of the court to stop this.
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Those school resource officers are important to have. I dont know how much traffic enforcement they do though. If they do, it would be nice to see those figures. I agree that judges should recognize speeding and other infractions in school zones as a severe infraction and fine or sentence violators accordingly.
K Blue September 30, 2011 at 09:32 PM
These school zones are the biggest area of concern right now and rightfully so. I just wish the County, if they insist on using these cameras, would exhibit some financial saavy with the next contract and get a better deal so they get more of the receipts to apply in the future toward speed humps, strips, islands, more officers in school zones, etc. If its not feasible to get a better deal, then they should simply say, "Thanks so much. We appreciated the services you provided, but we just cannot afford it at these rates. Its cost-prohibitive" and when other municipalities inquire why the contract wasn't continued, they respond "too costly." Speed cameras or not, the County could always lower the speed limit on these streets to 15mph if they really want to alter behavior (and could do that with nominal cost by revising the existing signs) and/or designate those streets as one-way to reduce traffic or the appeal of a certain route. We could have more officers to put on the street if the current administration didnt decide to skip a cadet class. Anyone caught driving while suspended or driving while revoked for points should go to jail, period, esp. if they are caught in a school zone. Speeding as evidenced by a speed camera is not point-eligible. It has to be an officer-issued ticket to be point-eligible.
Buck Harmon October 01, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Are you a Texas Ranger?
Buck Harmon October 02, 2011 at 02:54 PM
The slope is slippery when dealing with driving as a priviledge ... it seems to contradict our Constitutional right to travel freely and therefore is very difficult for any State to over enforce. The odds will catch up with the enforcers and eventually the system will be brought down by individual challenges... New York has already lost a number of these cases regarding the drivers license scam. Buzz... If you participate in this stuff you should know how it came about..the real reasons..
Buck Harmon October 02, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Accountability flows in both directions.
Cal Oren October 03, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Are school children en route to and from school the only casualties of those who speed recklessly? If cameras are THE solution, why limit their deployment? They are ineffective, but once again they allow out-of-touch government to claim to be "doing something."
Buzz Beeler October 03, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Buck, it is a very controversial issue. Say for example the insurance one; if you were in an accident with one who had no insurance -- even with that there is a limit, how do you protect the innocent? At what point do the rights of the individual take precedent over those of the masses. Who decides at what point is a person not capable of driving anymore? I'm not quite sure of your comment of how this came about. I might have the knowledge you speak of, I'm just not sure of how your are framing the topic.

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