Posted in: Commentary,
by Gregg Laskoski on Jan 29, 2014 02:30 PM
Baltimore's speed cameras charged motorists for thousands more erroneous tickets than previously disclosed, according to data from a secret audit conducted for the city last year and obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Consultant URS Corp. evaluated the camera system run by Xerox State and Local Solutions in 2012 and found an error rate of more than 10 percent — 40 times higher than city officials had claimed. The city got those findings last April but never disclosed the high error rate, refusing calls by members of the City Council to release the audit.
Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Scott Calvert said the city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.
"It's outrageous. No, it's beyond outrageous," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been calling on the city to release the audit. "Who ever heard of a secret audit? We should have told the public immediately. We should have declared complete amnesty, that all of the tickets were null and void. If anybody paid, they should be paid back."
The audit identified 13 cameras with double-digit error rates, including one at Loch Raven Boulevard that was giving out more erroneous tickets than accurate citations.
A camera in the 1000 block of Caton Ave. had a 35 percent error rate, the audit found. A device at the 6500 block of Eastern Ave. had a 45 percent error rate. And a speed camera in the 5400 block of Loch Raven Blvd. had a 58 percent error rate.
"That is extraordinary," said City Council member Robert Curran. "Anything more than a 2 percent error rate is unacceptable."
Throughout 2012, city officials repeatedly claimed the error rate of their 83 cameras was "less than a quarter of one percent" in response to a Sun investigation that documented erroneous speed readings at seven cameras.
Although the city has suspended the red-light camera program it still hasn't come clean about the fraud it committed. Despite calls from the City Council to release the audit, the administration does not plan to do so, says Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
City Solicitor George Nilson, the administration's chief lawyer, has said releasing the audit would violate a settlement agreement with Xerox and "create obvious risks and potential exposure for the city."
In the settlement, the city agreed to pay Xerox $2.3 million for invoices from late 2012. The city also agreed to keep confidential any documents "referring or relating to, or reflecting, each party's internal considerations, discussions, analyses, and/or evaluations of issues raised during the settlement discussions.
After she finishes wiping the egg off her face, let's hope the mayor of Baltimore wakes up and recognizes the city has a much deeper obligation to its citizens than any vendor with whom it tacitly agrees to defraud those she represents.