Police: Speed Camera Citations Drop, Accident Numbers Remain Constant
Police spokesman: "People are slowing down around schools and that's our goal."
Speed camera citations have declined significantly since the controversial program was fully implemented in August, but accidents in the areas patrolled by the devices have remained the same, according to a Baltimore County Police Department analysis released today.
The analysis of the 15-camera network, which comes four days before the County Council considers a bill to expand it, also shows costs that make it clear that the county is losing money on the program.
The report shows that between Aug. 2 and Dec. 20, there has been a 51.5 percent decrease in citations issued by the cameras—from 4,180 in early August when all 15 cameras became operational to about 2,100 in late December. The figure is consistent with a statistic first reported by Patch on Jan. 7.
Lt. Robert McCullough, a police spokesman, said the data shows that the program is having the desired affect on speeding in school zones and is therefore successful.
Police Chief Jim Johnson told the County Council on a Dec. 14 that the program was seeing a 50 percent drop in citations. During that meeting, Johnson said the program was changing driver behavior.
"Speed cameras have proven to actually alter driver behavior," Johnson said at the time. "In fact, speed camera violations are down nearly 50 percent since we installed the 15 units countywide."
The report, released publicly late Friday, was scheduled to be given to the council in October, but the police department missed the deadline. Its release comes just in time for a Tuesday hearing before the County Council on a bill that would authorize the county to install an unlimited number of speed cameras in county school zones. The bill is sponsored by Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.
"It's pretty clear that they work and that's why I think there shouldn't be a limit," Quirk said. "It's amazing in five months time how affective they've been."
Councilman Todd Huff, a Timonium Republican and opponent of speed cameras, said late Friday that the report hadn't changed his mind.
"I'm sure it was valid information but it hasn't changed my position—I'm still against the cameras," Huff said.
All seven council members were contacted for this story.
Cathy Bevins, a Democrat who represents the 6th District, wrote in a text message response to a phone call that she had not yet finished reading the 27-page police report.
Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., Councilman Ken Oliver and Councilwoman Vicki Almond all did not return calls from a reporter seeking comment.
Police analysts reviewed the first 20 weeks of the program and compared the more than 4,100 tickets issued in the first week of the program to an average decrease in the number of citations over the following 19 weeks, McCullough said.
Huff said he's concerned there was not enough data in the report to make a final determination on how well the program works.
"In business you need at least a year of data so you can look at the numbers and compare any month to similar months the year before," Huff said.
McCullough said five months was enough time to make a determination about the program's effectiveness. The report was not released in October because three months was determined to be too little time for an accurate assessment.
"We're confident in the data we've provided so far," he said.
The report questions how much change the program is responsible for and states that change is not permanent.
A statistical analysis of the areas around the 15 cameras found that there was no change in accidents in the school zones with cameras.
Police department analysts used data from the school zones for the three years before the cameras were installed to determine an average number of accidents. The department then looked at the number of total accidents in those zones after the cameras were installed.
A review of the number of accidents within a quarter-mile radius of the camera were inconclusive but the report states that a statistical analysis found "no significant difference in the number of traffic accidents before/after the speed camera implementation date. Camera locations averaged 31 accidents per site before and after they went on-line."
The report reached similar conclusions when it reviewed accident data within a one-eighth mile radius.
McCullough said the report shows that the cameras have led drivers to slow down.
"People are slowing down around schools and that's our goal," he said. "We will have to give it additional time to see if there is any change (in accidents) over the next six months to a year."
Ron Ely, founder and editor of the anti-speed camera website stopbigbrothermd.org said the report is conclusive but not in the way county police think.
"Reducing speeds is a mean to an end," Ely said.
The end, as Ely put it, is to make the public safer by reducing accidents in the area where the cameras are located.
"If the assumption is that reducing the number of tickets would result in a reduction in the number of accidents then the results in the county should have been very pronounced," Ely said. "You should have seen something, even if it was very small."
Huff said he also believes the program does not make the public safer "when the accidents data remains the same."
David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said the report calls into question claims that it makes the public safer.
"It's slowing down drivers but there is mixed results when it comes to reducing accidents," Marks said.
But the report states that the change in speeding may only be temporary. Drivers would return to speeding if the cameras were removed, the report states.
"It's our belief that it would happen," McCullough said.
The report recommends switching to mobile camera units that could be moved from location to location.
Yolanda Winkler, a lobbyist for the county, told county legislators in Annapolis Friday morning that County Executive Kevin Kamenetz favors mobile units.
Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, is expected to propose an amendment to Quirk's bill that would allow the county to use the mobile units.
Marks is expected to introduce three other amendments. One would dedicate the county's net revenue to public safety programs. A second would require the police department to report the number of citations issued and money collected on a website on a quarterly basis. A third amendment would require the police department to use State Highway Administration criteria to determine placement of the devices.
The program also appears to be a money loser for the county.
Patch first reported on Jan. 5 that the county had collected about $1.1 million of the $1.7 million in citations issued since the start of the program.
Of that, about 81 cents of every dollar went to ACS State and Local Solutions, the contractor for the program. The county kept $213,578.
The program is currently managed by one supervisor and uses two
police officers and two cadets. The report also cited the need for a full-time supervisor.
Total salary costs for the report in 2010 were listed at approximately $255,791 — a loss of more than $42,000 dollars.
That does not include more than $145,000 in additional one-time set up expenses incurred as the program began. Those additional costs were outlined in a memo written by Keith Dorsey, the county's director of Budget and Finance.
"It is a money loser but I think people who support this would say it's worth it if it saves one life," said Marks, who added, "I don't know how to prove (the number of lives saved)."