MORNINGSIDE, Md. – Two months after a WTOP Ticketbuster investigation found serious questions about speed cameras in Morningside, a state lawmaker representing the town is calling on town officials to be more responsive.
Del. Aisha Braveboy, a Democrat, tells WTOP that she was upset when she heard WTOP’s November story. She says no driver should have to go through what Steven Johnson and Mike Weathersby encountered.
“I don’t think any driver would be happy to get a ticket saying they’re speeding, if they’re not. I think it’s a fairness issue, whether the ticket is $40 or $100. I don’t think it’s fair to ask people to pay for a fine when they haven’t violated any of our laws,” says Braveboy.
Morningside, a small independent town within Prince George’s County, has two cameras on the 6800 block of Suitland Road near the Capital Beltway. One camera is positioned in each direction, catching drivers near Joint Base Andrews.
Shortly after WTOP’s November report, Brekford, the Anne Arundel County-based company that runs the Morningside program, dismissed the ticket against Mike Weathersby. Johnson’s ticket was dismissed in court in July. Brekford gets 40 percent of each $40 ticket paid.
In January, another driver came to WTOP Radio claiming that she received a bogus ticket on the Suitland Road camera as well. She has asked WTOP not to use her name and does not want to publicize her story until after she adjudicates her case in District Court in Hyattsville, Md.
“My advice to Morningside is to take this very seriously because these are just three instances where people have stood up. But there are probably many more out there,” Braveboy says.
In December, the Baltimore Sun uncovered a report about speed cameras in Baltimore. The independent audit from URS Corporation found the Brekford cameras suffered from equipment malfunctions and defective radar. The Sun agreed to share the report with WTOP Radio to assist in its investigation.
Baltimore later terminated its contract with Brekford. Several other Brekford clients, including Greenbelt, Hagerstown and Salisbury, had to issue refunds to drivers because cameras went 13 months between calibration tests. Maryland law requires each speed camera gets calibrated every 12 months.
“The vendor has obviously had issues in another jurisdiction, and if Brekford continues unchecked, this is going to be a problem for Morningside. It’s incumbent upon Morningside to hold their vendor accountable. We have to demand accuracy,” says Braveboy.
“Morningside is running the risk of having additional tickets throw out. I think that’s a problem for them, for Brekford and the integrity of all speed cameras. Out of fairness to everyone, having an independent study done would probably yield results that people would be more comfortable with.”
Braveboy has sent a letter to Morningside to urge them to do just that. Morningside Town Attorney Todd Pounds tells WTOP that the town also sent a letter to Brekford seeking access to the cameras, but would not commit to spending town dollars to hiring an outside firm.
“You are asking me to spend the town’s money now, based upon your request for an independent review. If WTOP wants to have this independent review, then you’re going to have to find a way to pay for it,” says Pounds.
Braveboy says she understands the town may not have the money and would be willing to discuss providing state money.
“That’s something that we as a legislature have to look at. What are costs to conduct these studies? But I don’t think it can go unchecked,” she says.
Braveboy also suggested Prince George’s County could play a role in financing a study, although a county spokesman would not answer questions from WTOP about the story, calling it a town issue.
John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, tells WTOP that Morningside is taking the wrong approach. In January, AAA Mid-Atlantic called upon all Maryland jurisdictions to conduct independent audits on their speed cameras.
“They just don’t care – that’s the terrible and tragic signal that they’re sending to motorists,” says Townsend.
“Morningside is saying they care more about profits than law enforcement. That they have no concerns about integrity and no concerns about doing the right thing. As in Baltimore, there is a distinct and definite need for an outside auditor to come in and review the whole speed camera program.”
Pounds tells WTOP he thinks the cameras work correctly and drivers can trust the program is above-board.
“If they (AAA Mid-Atlantic) want to contribute to the town funds, or you mentioned about possibly getting state money, fantastic. But everything we know is that these cameras are working properly,” he says.
“Basically people do have full faith and confidence and so does the town of Morningside, based upon all the certifications we have for the speed cameras. This is obviously being driven by WTOP,” says Pounds, although WTOP pointed out the Brekford cameras in Baltimore also had certification.
Braveboy thinks the public deserves better.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the local jurisdiction to really be involved and more responsive than they’re being,” she says.
WTOP conducts its own test
WTOP decided to run its own tests on the Suitland Road speed cameras to determine whether the tickets issued to Mike Weathersby and Steven Johnson were isolated errors or the sign of a systemic problem.
WTOP mounted a test car with three different speedometers to verify accuracy. In addition to the speedometer in the vehicle, WTOP used TomTom and an iPhone speedometer app. All three were consistently within 1 mph of each other during each test. WTOP tested the two cameras at 25 mph, 30 mph and 35 mph. The speed limit on Suitland Road is 30 mph, but under Maryland law, speed camera cannot issue fines unless the vehicle is going at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit. WTOP used Google Glass to record each test.
Under Maryland law, Morningside and Brekford have 14 days to issue a ticket.
Take a look at one sample video here:
If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email WTOP your case – along with documentation – to firstname.lastname@example.org.