The Truth About Montgomery County, Maryland Speed Cameras

June 18, 2009

John DamskeyLast week the Montgomery County, Maryland Council wanted to promote its plan to blitz the area with yet more speed cameras. For best effect, council members invited their top salesman, John Damskey, Director of the Montgomery County Police Department Traffic Division. The council made the right choice. The articulate Damskey has a look in his eyes that just says he wants to be the next police chief. The only way that will ever happen is to deliver exactly what the council wants, regardless of the truth.

“In December of 2008 we were asked to provide some statistics to show the benefit of the program,” Damskey said.

So he created some: First, a 22% reduction in speed at camera sites. This reflects the obvious phenomenon of people slamming on their brakes when approaching a camera zone. This frequently creates a backup where speeds are 10 MPH or more under the limit. But Damskey’s crown jewel was this amazing figure: a 53% reduction in fatalities in Montgomery County thanks solely to the speed cameras.

An impressive figure, until Councilman George Leventhal accidentally rained on Damskey’s parade.

“Captain Damskey, the statistic that you cited of a 50% reduction in fatalities certainly got my attention,” he gushed. “Is that in a one year period, or two years since the introduction of the program?”

George had all the right intentions. He obviously realized that the bare minimum for a statistical relevance would be one year of data. Since fatal accidents are the most rare, you really would want at least two years of numbers upon which to base any conclusion.

It turns out that Damskey was comparing the first few months of 2009 to the same period in 2008. In other words, he wasn’t doing an honest before/after comparison, he cherry picked six months worth of data with cameras in use to compare with another six month of “after” data. It was an after/after comparison where the numbers happened to look good.

It turns out that statistical time periods are the Achilles heel of Maryland photo radar presentations. In a must-read 2002 Weekly Standard article, investigative reporter Matt Labash came up with a similar question for Damskey’s colleagues in Howard County.

At a congressional hearing last summer, they were automated enforcement’s star witnesses. Wearing their gold-braided dress blues and wielding their Power Point displays, they proceeded to declare their three-year-old red-light camera program an unqualified success, boasting a reduction in collisions of between 18 percent and 44 percent at every intersection where a camera had been installed.

The statistics were impressive. Still, confused as to the time periods being monitored, I called Lt. Glenn Hansen to ask for clarification. “You’re right, it’s confusing,” said the media-friendly Hansen, who runs their program. “You’re a writer, maybe you can give us advice on how to do better in the future.” It turns out Hansen had no idea what the time periods were either, except that the times measured before and after installation of the camera were equal. But when I obtained accident statistics for all the county-road intersections where cameras had been placed, the numbers didn’t square with the ones presented at the congressional hearing.

Labash did a real before/after comparison and found that total accidents actually increased 16%. But let’s move along from that. Damskey has more to say, and you need to know Maryland law to understand the full impact of what he was trying to do. MGA Statutes §21–809(j) states:

If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.

Montgomery County does pay ACS a contingent fee of $16.25 for each citation issued. Damskey explained all the things that ACS does in return for all of that money:

  • ACS owns the cameras
  • ACS does all maintenance and repair
  • ACS does site management
  • ACS does IT services
  • ACS does name and address acquisition
  • ACS does initial review and all data entry
  • ACS does payment processing
  • ACS does customer service
  • ACS does printing and mailing services
  • ACS does site construction
  • ACS does back office processing

What does Montgomery County do? It “manages” the program, which means in Damskey’s view that the county isn’t violating the law because managing is operating.

So the next time you’re pulled over for speeding in Montgomery County, be sure to tell the officer that you did not break state law because you were not operating the vehicle by Captain Damskey’s definition. In fact, the real operator was the friend in the back seat yelling that you needed to hurry up or you’d be late.

So how did the council rate Damskey’s performance?

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Council Vice President Roger Berliner said.

Congratulations, you’re well on your way to becoming chief one day, Captain Damskey.

Watch Damskey’s show.


Cop Speaks Out Against Photo Radar

June 16, 2009

Lets see what the ATS and Redflex lackeys have to say about this one: postit

Officer Mike Wasilewski, one of Naperville’s finest, writing with wife Althea Olson in this month’s lawofficer.com, put it beautifully:

“The ever-expanding use of cameras as a principal means of locating and citing traffic violators is ultimately harmful to the profession of law enforcement, diminishes public trust in governmental bodies, and fails to recognize potential long-term consequences in favor of short-term gains.”

They continue: “As Americans, a healthy distrust of government is part of our national DNA … We instinctively dislike the idea of cameras following us, recording us, reporting our actions to the authorities for punishment.”

Officer Wasilewski is far from alone. Just in Arizona, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have been vocal critics of automated ticketing. Wasilewski’s comments are reminescent of Babeu’s comments just a few months back:

I am against it, not only because I’m a strict Constitutionalist, but I believe… it’s driven to create money for the government. It’s corrupting law enforcement for us to be partnered with a private entity that creates revenue—clearly that’s their interest… I’ve never… seen a photo radar camera arrest a drunk driver or arrest a person with a warrant, see if someone has insurance, or to just simply give directions to somebody…


Pre-4th of July Sign Wave / Demonstration

June 16, 2009

the-face-of-camerafraud1Declare your independence from the dangerous money-making cameras located directly below on I-10. Help us spread the news regarding CameraFRAUD to hundreds of thousands of rush-hour motorists. (The last time we held an event here, the honks of support were deafening!)

Bring your own sign or use one of ours (We’ll have a signmaking party before this event).

>>> RSVP NOW >>>


Italy: Police Raid Speed Camera Company Caught in Fraud Scandal

June 15, 2009

 

velomatic

 

“Oh, no! These systems will neeeeeever be abused…” yah RIGHT

 

Italian police find 81,555 speed camera tickets worth $16 million were fraudulently issued.

 


CameraFRAUD Twitter

June 11, 2009

twitterCameraFRAUD is on Twitter!

Help us reach 1000 followers by the 4th of July by joining today. You’ll receive up-to-the-minute information regarding what we’re doing in the fight against automated ticketing. Just look at our Twitter testimonials!

I love getting camerafraud tweets on my blackberry – S. Vaitheeswaran

It allows me to act busy during those boring legislative sessions – Anonymous State Representative

ATS has never been more fun to work for since these people started videotaping our employees and tweeting their locations. – J. Weiss.

>>> Take me to CameraFRAUD Twitter! >>>


The Italian Job

June 10, 2009

These guys were amatuers compared to the real Italian Job: crooked photo radar companies.

These guys were amatuers compared to the real Italian Job: crooked photo radar companies.

In an interview with AOL News last week, an automated ticketing PR flack was asked if a nationwide system of “freeway speed cameras” was likely.

According to the article, Cristine Weeks of Redflex offered a “cryptic response:”

“I think, you know, take a look at western Europe, which is 10 to 15 years ahead of U.S. applications.”

Western Europe is far ahead indeed. In fact, lets take a look at some recent news from Italy:

Speed Camera Company Caught in Fraud Scandal
Italian police find 81,555 speed camera tickets worth $16 million were fraudulently issued.

Police…  raided the Brescia headquarters of a speed camera manufacturer accused of fraud involving seventy municipalities throughout the country… Salerno prosecutor Amato Barile ordered the raid after discovering evidence that Velomatic 512 photo radar units bearing the same individual serial number were being used by different municipalities located hundreds of miles apart.

Under Italian regulations, each camera used for issuing citations must be properly calibrated and approved. By cloning serial numbers, the company avoided testing requirements.

Prosecutors also believe that some of these cameras were calibrated in such a way that motorists adhering to the speed limit would receive citations.

I can see why Redflex (and American Traffic Solutions) would want to emulate the “progress” of western Europe: think of all the money to be made from a nationwide U.S. system of speed cameras calibrated to sting even those obeying the law!

In Arizona, businesses can’t operate a gas pump or grocery store scale without oversight from the Weights and Measurements department, but a foreign company with a vested interest in returning significant profits to its shareholders is allowed to issue an unlimited number of “violation notices” with no independent verification of accuracy.

As a result of a criminal conspiracy, 81,555 tickets worth 11.3 million euros (US $16 million) fraudulently issued between 2007 and 2009 have been canceled, refunds will be given and license points will be removed… In January, the makers of the T-Red brand of red light cameras were similarly arrested for fraud after prosecutors found motorists were being trapped at intersections with short yellows and improperly certified equipment.

Any city or town official that continues to proceed forward with these automated ticketing rackets better not be surprised when the whole scam comes tumbling down and multi million dollar refunds are sought through the legal system. Good luck holding onto your public-sector job when you bankrupt your municipality over a failed cash-grab-gone-wrong.

Politicians are like diapers: They should be changed often, and for the same reason.


Photo Radar Worker Arrested for Child Porn

June 9, 2009

pornpredA man believed to be a Redflex Traffic Systems employee has been arrested in Harrison County, TX in what officials are calling a “major” child pornography case according to the Marshall News Messenger.

Christopher Everette Jacobs of Longview, TX was arrested June 3 on three counts of child pornography.

“He was kind of a computer expert,” said [Sheriff] McCool, noting he worked for the company that manages the traffic cameras for Marshall and Longview.’

The cities of Marshall and Longview, TX utilize Redflex as their automated ticketing vendor, according to the Redflex website.

In March of 2009, the Arizona Department of Public Safety testified before state officials that they considered Redflex employees to be “agents of the state,” despite the severe lack of training and Peace Officer Standards Testing which are the norm for police officers and even some security guards.

Other Redflex employees have had their fair share of serious run-ins with the law. Late last year, Roderick Ruffin was arrested in Scottsdale for “extreme DUI” while driving an automated ticketing van. A month later, Corey Fleetwood, another Redflex van driver, attacked a demonstrator in Tempe for holding a sign near his van. Despite Redflex claiming that all employees proceed though a detailed background check, Ruffin had been involved with an assault accusation before.

As to the Texas child porn arrest, the Sheriff stated that “…there could be further charges of sexual assault.”

If Jacobs is found to have been a photo radar van driver, could it be that Redflex placed him within direct contact with children through the deployment of school-zone photo radar vans? The same vans that allow drivers to seal off windows to prevent people from looking in from the outside? Was illicit content accessed though Redflex’s network or computer systems? Only time will tell as the investigation proceeds.

Also of note: In 2005, traffic cameras in China were discovered being abused by control-room employees for the purposes of voyeurism.

Computers, vans, and cameras: A predator’s tool kit?


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