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Morningside takes down suspect speed cameras

Wednesday - 5/28/2014, 6:37am  ET

MORNINGSIDE.JPG
The speed camera has been taken out of this location on Suitland Road in Morningside. It's not known whether speed cameras will return. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

MORNINGSIDE, Md. -- A small town in Prince George's County under pressure over its speed cameras has decided to remove them from the road, at least temporarily.

Morningside, an independent municipal corporation within Prince George's County, removed the cameras from Suitland Road last week. Morningside and speed camera vendor Brekford agreed to part ways rather than renew a contract that was due to expire.

"We are interviewing other possible vendors. Brekford did a great job," says Morningside Town Attorney Todd Pounds in an email to WTOP.

Both Morningside and Brekford had to answer some tough questions after a WTOP Ticketbuster investigation uncovered two videos that questioned the accuracy of the cameras.

"I'm glad they came down because they were defective. They didn't work properly. I'm still not comfortable if they come back at a later date," says Mike Weathersby, who shot one of the two videos last year. "I'm not anti-speed camera. If you're going to use them, put them at a spot for safety. Make sure the cameras are accurate and start the program legally."

State Delegate Aisha Braveboy, along with other Prince George's County officials, pressed the town to answer questions about whether the cameras were accurate and legal.

The decision came as WTOP Ticketbuster was investigating whether Morningside followed the law when instituting the program in 2011.

Maryland Annotated Code 21-809 (b) lays out several requirements.

The town must get permission from Prince George's County to put the camera on a county road. Morningside received a denial letter from the county in 2011, but the town argued that the response arrived after the 60-day statute of limitations had expired. The letter was dated before the 60-day time limit.

Also, the town must advertise the location of the speed cameras in a newspaper of general circulation and on their website. WTOP Ticketbuster filed a Maryland Public Information Act request for each.

"Unfortunately, the Police Chief of Morningside during the timeframe as mentioned for those records is no longer employed with the Town. Those records are no longer available or in the possession of the Town. Upon inquiry, the name of the publication is presently unknown," wrote Pounds in response to a request for a copy of the newspaper and website advertisement.

In early 2014, Prince George's County refunded more than $58,000 in speed camera violations to drivers because one camera on Auth Road had not been advertised in a newspaper of general circulation.

Weathersby says he believes the town should not bring back the speed cameras. He hopes none of the other speed-camera companies will sign a contract with Morningside.

"They need to quit. They don't need the speed cameras. There are enough Morningside police cruisers. It's not necessary," says Weathersby. "I believe 100 percent it was about dollars and cents. As long as they were collecting money, they were fine. But once I challenged the tickets, I showed the video, they didn't have a leg to stand on. It's all about the money for them."

Another driver who challenged a ticket from Morningside hoped to bring these issues up in District Court in Hyattsville. But Morningside did not show up, so the ticket was automatically dismissed.

Sources have told WTOP that small towns such as Morningside often don't show up to District Court unless there is a large number of cases on the docket because it costs them money. Under Maryland law, any judgment in District Court on a speed- camera citation goes to the court, not the town nor the vendor. Sources tell WTOP that some towns calculate the costs to attend court and decide to skip it.

Whether Morningside brings speed cameras back later this year, or whether another company would be willing to sign a contract with the town, remains to be seen.

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