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.


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
2006 : 14
2006 : 9
2006 : 12
2006 : 14
2006 : 12
2006 : 11
2006 : 18
2006 : 10
2006 : 14
2007 : 3
Average : 11.545

After Cameras
Month : #Accidents Reported
2008 : 16
2008 : 7
2008 : 10
2008 : 10
2008 : 10
2008 : 10
2008 : 17
2008 : 16
2009 : 8
2009 : 8
2009 : 13
2009 : 17
: 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.

Montgomery County MD Will Double Speed Cameras

March 17, 2009

The Examiner did a great piece on the plan to balance the Montgomery County budget using speed cameras. This is a case where just a few words  tell the entire story:

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is proposing to almost double the number of speed cameras in Montgomery County, from 36 to 66.

The cameras may be the bane of leadfoots, but they are a boon for the county, which estimates that the cameras will bring $22.6 million in revenue in the current fiscal year.

Asked at a news conference whether the proposal for more cameras was designed to bring in more money during a lean budget year, Leggett said: “Oh no, we wouldn’t do that,” drawing big laughs from the overflow crowd.

“It is for safety purposes,” Leggett emphasized, again getting more laughs.

First Maryland Protest Draws Public Support

February 15, 2009
Protest banner (click to enlarge)

Protest banner (click to enlarge) held its first protest in Chevy Chase, Maryland today. The event drew the interest of the NBC 4 television news which sent over a crew to film the event and interview participants. Those interviews were constantly interrupted by horns honking in agreement with signs that read “No Speed Cameras,” “Greed Cameras” and “Save Liberty, Stop the Scam.”

WRC interviews participants

WRC interviews participants

The goal was to raise awareness in the area and to show that we’re serious about exposing the lies. Contact us if you want to join in our next protest. Even if you can’t make it, the most important thing you can do is spread the word about the site.

Lawmakers really need to take note of the intense public sentiment — as demonstrated by the loud and constant honks — and realize that the cameras must come down.

Bruno delivers a message to the speed camera pole

Bruno about to deliver a message to the speed camera pole

Speed Cameras Attract Lobbyists in Annapolis

February 10, 2009

The statewide speed camera bills currently being discussed, and soon to be voted on, by the Maryland General Assembly have been the subject of intensive lobbying efforts.

According to Maryland state lobbying disclosures, the company which runs Montgomery County’s speed camera program, Texas based ACS State and Local Solutions, currently retains a team of at least 8 lobbyists at one of the state’s most successful lobbying firms, Alexander & Cleaver. The State Ethics Commission releases an annual report on companies spending over 50,000 on lobbying activities, and ACS has been on that list each year from 2006-2008.

In 2007, prior to the nearly successful statewide speed camera bill, they spent $144,346.74 on lobbying activities. ACS spent an additional $81,460.13 in 2008 through October 31, 2008 on this effort. ACS’s lobbying activities during the 2008 general Assembly included $6286.13 on two banquets at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on January 29 and February 6, 2008 for members of the House Environmental Matters Senate Judicial Proceedings, House Appropriations, and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees.

It will not be known how much they are spending during the 2009 legislative session until after the General Assembly ends in April.

Texas Based ACS (under the names Affiliated Computer Services and ACS Government Committee) made campaign contributions in 2007-2008 to the following Maryland officials:
• Governor O’Malley (who is pushing the statewide speed camera bills)
• Senate President Mike Miller (who sponsored the 2008 and 2009 legislation)
• Comptroller Peter Franchot (who oversees state contracts).
• John L. Bohanan Jr, ( District 29B, St Mary’s County Delegate and Deputy Majority Whip )

The company which provides camera hardware to ACS, Traffipax (which is the US subsidiary of Robot Visual Systems based in Monheim, Germany), paid $50,000.00 on lobbying activities in 2007. Insurance companies are also weighing in heavily, with State Farm Insurance Companies, Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, Nationwide Insurance Company, and the Maryland Insurance Council all making the list of big lobbying spenders in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, local governments hoping to cash in on the revenue have used public funds to hire

Speed camera van

Speed camera van

lobbyists. Prince George’s County hired the firm “Darryl A. Kelley & Associates, LLC”, listed “speed monitoring systems” as one of 4 subjects, and reported spending $47,500.00 in taxpayer dollars on the effort in 2008. The City of Bowie made a similar disclosure, listing speed cameras as one of 6 topics which they paid the firm “O’Malley, Miles, Nylen, & Gilmore, P.A.” a total $37,000 in taxpayer dollars to lobby for in 2008.

The Montgomery County government did not specifically disclose any lobbying spending for more speed cameras. However they do use taxpayer funded resources as part of a PR campaign for the Safe Speed program. The County Council and County Executive (all of whom belong to the same political party) control the content broadcast over Cable County Montgomery, which receives approximately $2million in taxpayer dollars annually, and which frequently broadcasts PR pieces for the Safe Speed program without inviting critics to present opposing viewpoints. Montgomery County also uses taxpayer funded police resources to respond to letters and emails sent to the County Executive. has confirmed that using police resources to respond to letters on this POLITICAL subject is a standard practice for the county executive, and we wonder whether he ever reads any of the many letters which are critical of the county’s position.

Maryland Speed Camera Program: Scams, Conflicts of Interest Everywhere

January 26, 2009

When he Maryland Legislature authorized Montgomery County to use speed cameras in 2006, the people were given certain assurances. One was that there would be no per-ticket payments to speed camera contractors, which would create a financial incentive for contractors to “cheat” to maximize profits. Another was that they would only be used in “residential and school zones”, not major arterial roads. And finally, that they would not be used as cash cows for local governments by earmarking the revenues for (undefined) “public safety” improvements. All of those promises were given to the driving public – and ALL of those promises have since been broken by the Montgomery County Speed Camera Program.

The no-per-ticket-payment requirement was discussed in local government planning sessions and County Council Sessions prior to bidding on the contract, including a comment by now council president Phil Andrews on the May 8th, 2006 that “contractors are not paid based on the number of citations, that’s built-in” (transcript, pdf). Nonetheless the county signed a contract with ACS State and Local Solutions in 2007 which pays the greater of $3000 per van or $16.25 per citation per fully paid citation. That is in violation of article 21-809(j) which 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.”

Had the county been open with the public about this after citizens started to take issue, and then promptly renegotiated its contract, this might have been the end of this. But the county had a financial conflict of interest of its own: this contract was also designed to maximize profits for Montgomery County. Instead, they attempted to deceive the public while 2008 legislation authorizing statewide speed cameras was being voted on in March 2008. On March 15th 2008, County Executive Ike Leggett stated in an online town hall session in response to a question about why the county was paying its contractor a 40% cut of the speed camera revenues by stating “Under the contract, we pay a flat fee” (transcript). The 2008 legislation contained a subtle change to the law — changing the definition of a speed monitoring system operator from “an individual who operates” to “A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN AGENCY”. That would have allowed the county to designate anyone they choose as the “operator” of the system, and put into law a “loophole” which the county was trying to use as legal cover. Fortunately, the legislative session ended before the house and senate could reconcile minor differences and make it law.
On May 15th, 2008, County executive Leggett stated that the county would renegotiate its contract. But because of the county’s financial conflict, they instead continued to expand the program. That expansion included the city of Takoma Park signing an agreement to join the contract in September 22, 2008. The resolution appears to require ACS to make a profit for the city:

If the total of the City’s paid citation revenues are less than $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for two consecutive months or for any two months in a six-month period during the term of the agreement or any renewals, the contract provides for a renegotiation of the per citation rate and/or the monthly minimum compensation payable to the contractor. If the City, in its sole discretion, is not satisfied with the results of such renegotiation or with the revenues derived from the photo speed enforcement program or the City determines that photo speed enforcement is no longer an appropriate enforcement mechanism for the City, then the City may terminate this Agreement for convenience….

Other promises given by the county and state have also proven empty. The requirement that cameras would only be used in “residential and school zones” became meaningless when major 4-6 lane commuter routes such as Connecticut Avenue were used. Other residential zones, have few or no houses nearby, such as the cameras on Montrose road that are located on a bridge at the bottom of a long hill.

Maryland speed trap

Darnestown, Maryland speed trap

The requirements that money be spent on “public safety” were proven meaningless when Chevy Chase village decided that purchasing a new Segway, a locker room, and an office for their police chief constituted “public safety improvements”. Minutes from Chevy Chase village show those items were purchased directly from the safe speed fund.

Finally, promises that they would not be used as cash cows were proven empty when in December 2008 new cameras in Darnestown were placed immediately after the location where the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph. That setup is highly likely to snare any driver who does not react immediately to the changing speed limit.

The Maryland General Assembly is currently in session. Several legislators and Governor O’Malley have pledged to pass legislation which will expand speed cameras to other parts of Maryland. Given the deception Maryland drivers have faced already, it is urgent that you get involved to let them know you will not tolerate more scams, or more scameras!