Montgomery County Speed Camera Love-In

June 18, 2009

John DamskeyLast week the Montgomery County, Maryland Council wanted to promote a 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.


Setback for Maryland Camera Referendum

June 1, 2009

referendumThe effort to overturn Maryland’s statewide speed camera program came close but did not secure the number of signatures needed under the tight 30-day deadline. Although in the short term it looks like this means Maryland’s political class can proceed with the scamera cash grab with gusto, more careful observers will note that the petition is a wakeup call. An unfunded, volunteer group banded together using the Internet and get so many signatures in so short a time, finding 9 out of 10 people asked were willing to sign. Without the state’s irrational signature gathering limitations, regulations and dealines, the speed cameras would be gone. And the legislature knows it. Lawmakers who continue to ignore  the will of the public will do so at their own peril.

Here’s the official statement from Maryland for Responsible Enforcement:

Unfortunately, today was not a bright day for the citizens of Maryland; as they fell just shy of the required 17,883 signatures needed to bring SB-277 to Ballot Referendum with just over 16,000 signatures.

MRE would like to thank all like minded Marylanders who signed the petition and helped collected signatures. We want everyone to know your voices will be heard and we will use our lessons learned to assist citizens challenge speed cameras in their jurisdictions.

Over the past few weeks many Marylanders have expressed their utter disdain ranging from anger over it being another tax to concern over an increased big-brother 1984 police state.

Maryland is one of the hardest if not the hardest states in the union to pass a referendum. Sadly, this results in so many Marylanders being denied a voice in their government by not being able to hold their elected officials responsible for questionable and unpopular policy.

The burdensome state guidelines only guarantee the citizen petitioners a limited few weeks. This allows little time for people to express their concerns over a law. Even if Marylanders had submitted the correct number of signatures, the state would still omit 20-30% of the voter intent. By means of a strict process that if a middle initial was not used, the signature would be void.

During the final days of MRE’s efforts, many Marylanders reached out to us who had just learned about the petition effort and wanted to sign or help collect signatures themselves. Many more Marylanders told us they were in a busy time of the year but would do everything they could to help. With little money spent and a volunteer effort the
message was clear Marylanders do not want speed cameras and do not want more taxes and burdens in these troubling financial times.

Between the information the law requires you to collect, specifically the exact way the voter is registered, and the extremely limited time frame it would be a near impossible monumental task for anyone to succeed in.

We would like to again thank all those who signed the petition and helped collect signatures. You were all able to accomplish so much in so little time.

The fight is never over and our continued activism of Speed Cameras will continue.

Best Regards,

Justin Shuy and Daniel Zubairi
Co-Chairs
Maryland for Responsible Enforcement


Those Miraculous Accident Figures in Chevy Chase, MD

May 25, 2009

Chevy Chase VillageChevy Chase Village has claimed incredible safety results from their cameras. And I mean literally incredible. CCV officials told the Gazette that “Collisions in the village are down 70 to 80 percent” [source]. They have repeated similar claims to the press many times. “Where we used to average 12 to 14 collisions a month on Connecticut Avenue, we are now averaging about 3 or 4″[source].

The problem is that the Village’s own police reports, which report the number of accidents they responded to, do not uphold these claims. StopBigBrotherMD examined the monthly police reports posted to Chevy Chase Village’s website for a period of time before the speed cameras were introduced to the latest 12 month period of time
Before Cameras
Month : #Accidents Reported
Mar2006 : 10
Apr
2006 : 14
May
2006 : 9
Jun
2006 : 12
Jul
2006 : 14
Aug
2006 : 12
Sep
2006 : 11
Oct
2006 : 18
Nov
2006 : 10
Dec
2006 : 14
Jan
2007 : 3
Average : 11.545


After Cameras
Month : #Accidents Reported
May
2008 : 16
Jun
2008 : 7
Jul
2008 : 10
Aug
2008 : 10
Sep
2008 : 10
Oct
2008 : 10
Nov
2008 : 17
Dec
2008 : 16
Jan
2009 : 8
Feb
2009 : 8
Mar
2009 : 13
Apr
2009 : 17
Average
: 11.833

The average monthly number of accidents reported by Chevy Chase Village police for these periods of time were actually slightly greater now than before the cameras were introduced. Note that these numbers were for all of Chevy Chase Village, including Connecticut Ave. Accident rates naturally fluctuate and are subject to seasonal variations, so it may have been possible to find a short period of time supporting the safety claims of CCV officials (comparing the worst single month before the cameras to the best single month after). However the numbers from their police reports for any sustained period of time do not support anything remotely close to their claim that the section of Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Village was seeing an average 14 accidents per month prior to using speed cameras and a 70-80% drop in accidents after they were installed.

Traffic fatalities were reportedly down 9% NATIONWIDE in 2008, attributed to the price of gas, with at least 42 states seeing marked reductions in traffic fatalities[source]. Most of those states do NOT use speed cameras. For the first half of 2008 traffic fatalities per vehicle mile reached the lowest level ever recorded up to that date.

Under Maryland’s newly passed Senate Bill 277, the authorization of speed cameras, local governments which use speed cameras will need to report back to the general assembly in 2012 about the success or failure of their programs. SB277 includes the use of speed cameras in workzones on “expressways” with “speed limits of 45mph or greater” which can be used “regardless of whether workers are present” (not that anyone would ever set up workzone cameras without workers). One study sanctioned by the UK government from 2001-2003 regarding the effectiveness of workzone speed cameras showed “No significant difference was observed in the PIA(personal injury accident) rate for sites with and without speed cameras[source]” However since SB277 sets no standard for measuring success, Maryland’s programs need not need to worry about failure and can all be “successful” since the agencies which control access to the data can choose any standard and present only that data that shows success. It also does not require localities to consider other alternatives for speed control, or demonstrate that speed cameras were actually the best solution.

A petition drive is currently underway to collect 53,000 signatures and force SB277 to a referendum, giving the people or Maryland the opportunity to accept or reject this speed camera expansion by a popular vote. However time is very short to gather the needed signatures, so please go and sign the petition right now.


Republican Party Backs MD Speed Camera Referendum

May 4, 2009

Maryland GOPOne of the more pleasant aspects of the speed camera debate is that you’ll find as much opposition to scameras from liberals as you will from conservatives. The issue usually brings people together across traditional party divides.

In Maryland, however, Governor  Martin O’Malley (D) rammed the freeway speed camera bill through the General Assembly and created a significant partisan backlash. Here’s the Maryland Republican Party press release from today:

MDGOP Endorses Speed Camera Petition Drive

Unanimous Vote by Party’s Executive Committee

ANNAPOLIS—Last weekend, the Maryland Republican Party’s Executive Committee unanimously endorsed petitioning SB 277, the recently passed Speed Camera legislation to referendum.

“The Maryland Republican Party is proud to support Maryland for Responsible Enforcement’s Speed Camera Ballot Initiative,” said MDGOP Chairman Jim Pelura.  “This is another tax being placed on the citizens of Maryland and there are mixed reviews as to whether this promotes safety on the highways.”

“Perhaps worst of all, if you receive a ticket from one of these cameras there is no ability to face your accuser in court.  It’s your word against a machine, which is how Martin O’Malley and the Democrats in Annapolis want it,” Pelura continued.  “They want to find every avenue they can to wring the money out of hard-working taxpayers.  The Maryland Republican Party says ‘enough’ and we stand strongly behind placing this bill on the ballot in 2010 for the people to decide.”

We hope that having party support will bring the additional resources that will be needed to get the required signatures by the deadline. We also hope the Democratic Party realizes the need to get on board the referendum effort and stand on the side of the public, not on the side of a greedy politician. Learn more about how you can help gather signatures here.


Maryland Speed Camera Petition Ready for Signing

April 29, 2009

The petition sponsored by “Maryland for Responsible Enforcement” to force Senate Bill 277 (authorizing the statewide use of speed cameras) to a referendum is now ready to be signed.

The rules for forcing a new law to a public vote in Maryland are extremely strict. A total of over 57,000 valid signatures must be collected, and signatures can be disqualified for many reasons, with 1/3 of those signatures submitted before may 30 and the rest by June 30. You must be registered to vote in Maryland in order to sign the petition. (If you are a Maryland resident but are not registered to vote, go REGISTER TO VOTE right now. If you don’t vote you have no right to complain). Your name must appear on the petition exactly as it appears on your voter registration (there is a tool you can use to check your voter registration).

If you only want to sign the petition, you can go to www.mdscamera.com to print, sign, and mail the petition. Be sure to read the complete instructions for petition signers before sending in your form. However what is really needed is for you to gather signatures. If you know others who might be willing to sign, please read the “instructions for those collecting signatures” and then ask them to sign as well. Better yet, go out and circulate the petition wherever you can.

MRE needs to receive the first batch of signatures by 5/25/2009. Please spread the word about this effort as widely and as quickly as possible. Senate Bill 277 significantly reduces YOUR rights as a maryland driver to face your accuser, gives an unreasonable amount of new power to local government, and will create the legal precedent and the physical infrastructure for even more sweeping mass surveillance and machine enforcement of drivers in the future. This affects everyone who lives in or visits the state of Maryland. The People deserve a real public debate and a direct vote on this issue and your signature and petition gathering efforts can make that possible.


Big Money Behind Maryland Speed Camera Cash Grab

April 23, 2009
Governor O'Malley with his favorite thing: Money

They sure do love money

TheNewspaper.com has dissected what happened in the Maryland legislature to compel legislators to adopt a policy that is obviously contrary to the majority of residents (evidence suggests that opposition is as high as 80% against). You may not be surprised to learn some lawmakers value cash in their pockets more than anything else. Full article:

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign into law recently passed legislation authorizing a massive expansion in the use of speed cameras throughout the state. The measure is the culmination of a coordinated effort by photo enforcement companies, their lobbying firms and the insurance industry to sway the opinions of key legislators. TheNewspaper reviewed state records over the past ten years and found that parties with a direct financial interest in automated ticketing showered members of the Maryland General Assembly and the governor with $707,725 in gifts and campaign cash.

The official legislative analysis for Senate Bill 277 predicted $65,335,400 in new photo ticket revenue at the state level by 2014. The private contractor selected to run the program will pocket $9,783,700. Because a number of localities implementing their own programs expect equally generous levels of revenue, four traffic camera specialists had an incentive to make a long-term strategic investment in Maryland’s legislative process. American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Arizona, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) of Texas, Sigma Space/Optotraffic of Maryland and Traffipax of Germany together wrote checks to lawmakers worth $183,780 between 1999 and 2009.

To ensure the best reception for their proposals, these firms also retained heavy-hitting lobby shops with their own history of providing $213,055 in financial support to the campaigns of influential state lawmakers. ATS hired Capitol Strategies for $41,000; Sigma hired Rifkin Livingston Levitan LLC for $68,873; Traffipax hired Gildea Schmidt LLC for $50,000; and ACS hired Alexander Cleaver PA for $211,453. Some local governments even got into the act and spent taxpayer money on speed camera lobbying efforts, like Prince George’s County which hired Darryl Kelley LLC for $47,500.

The extra money spent by ACS made an impression on lawmakers serving on four state legislative committees. The ACS lobby shop, Alexander and Cleaver, feted these members with $6286 in food and wine from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Annapolis. Similarly, the American Automobile Association (AAA) threw a $10,933 party at the Lowe House Office Building for General Assembly members to build good will for the full range of AAA’s legislative agenda.

Insurance companies like AAA, Geico, Nationwide and State Farm have an intense interest in the promotion of photo radar and red light cameras. These companies collect millions in extra premium revenue in states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Illinois where certain categories of photo tickets carry license points. As a result, these companies lobbied heavily in favor of Maryland’s photo ticketing plan.

“AAA Mid-Atlantic supported the statewide bill to ensure continuity throughout the state in terms of practice and enforcement,” AAA said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Geico, Nationwide and State Farm together kicked in $293,671 in campaign donations to ensure lawmakers paid attention to their favorite issues, including speed cameras.

For the photo ticketing firms, it makes sense to invest $555,106 in direct lobbying and campaign expenses when the possible payoff is at least $9.8 million. A growing number of ordinary Maryland residents, however, want to keep that victory short-lived. Last week, Maryland for Responsible Enforcement began the process of circulating a petition that would give voters a chance in November to repeal the statewide photo radar legislation. In just a few days, 662 members signed up on the new group’s Facebook page.

The group CameraFraud.com has already collected thousands of signatures for a similar effort to ban photo enforcement in Arizona, and the group’s national capital branch supports the Maryland referendum. Once on the ballot, no photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote. Earlier this month, for example, 86 percent of voters in Sulphur, Louisiana voted to reject speed cameras.

(reprinted with permission)


Petition for Maryland Speed Camera Referendum Launched

April 18, 2009

A Bethesda businessman and former Congressional candidate, Daniel Zubairi, has launched a petition drive which would force SB-277, statewide speed cameras, to a referendum. They have created an organization “Maryland for Responsible Enforcement” and a website www.mdscamera.com to promote the referendum and have filed the required paperwork with the state. There is also a Facebook Group dedicated to the effort.

Maryland rules on forcing a new law to a referendum are extremely strict, requiring a petition with signatures equal to 3% of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last election, or 53,650. Those signatures must all be collected within 60 days of the bill’s passage and must be hand-written (not electronic). However if the drive is successful the chances of a statewide vote overturning the legislature is strong : despite claims by speed camera supporters that the devices are popular, no speed camera program has ever survived a referendum vote.

We will have more on this as it develops.


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