After seven years of red-light cameras and nearly two with speed cameras, Frederick police say the sometimes criticized programs have noticeably improved traffic safety in the city.
The city currently has seven red-light cameras and eight speed cameras, but the red-light program will more than double to 17 cameras in the coming months, according to Lt. Jason Keckler, commander of Patrol Operations for the Frederick Police Department.
And they don’t discriminate on who receives the tickets — even Mayor Randy McClement (R) has received an unwanted citation in the mail.
“I have to be the first to admit, I got one in the city vehicle,” McClement said. “... I got one, and I shouldn’t have done it. I maybe creeped up on the light — I got caught, broke the law and paid the price.”
Keckler said the city was reviewing the plans submitted by the police department for potential new intersections and upgraded cameras at the current locations, and anticipated implementing the new cameras in February.
The speed and red-light cameras also brought in about $1.6 million in gross revenue in fiscal 2012, the first full year of speed camera use, according to Katie Barkdoll, the city director of budget and purchasing.
Red-light cameras, which have been in use since 2005, accounted for $400,000, while the speed cameras chalked up $1.2 million, Barkdoll said.
The figures pale in comparison to nearby Montgomery County, which has significantly more cameras — 121 in total, including fixed and mobile speed and red-light cameras, as of September, according to documents on that county’s website.
Montgomery saw gross revenues of about $13.4 million for speed cameras in fiscal 2011 and about $2.95 million for red-light cameras, the documents said.
Like Frederick, those revenues were down slightly from about $16.5 million from speed cameras and about $3.87 million in red-light cameras in fiscal 2010.
McClement said he expected to hear some push back from residents when the new red-light cameras are installed.
“To be honest, it’s one of those things that I don’t understand [the other side of],” he said. “The only rationale I’ve ever been given by people not in favor [of traffic cameras] is people have a tendency to slam on their brakes. The red-light cameras, I don’t see that. The speed cameras, yeah, maybe, but you shouldn’t be speeding anyway.”
The city receives $44 for each $75 red-light camera ticket under the current agreement with American Traffic Services, an Arizona-based company.
The upgraded and new cameras will pay less — $35 per citation — under a contract negotiated in August with the same company. Because the contract was a renewal with the same vendor, there was no bidding process.
Speed cameras operate under a similar contract with Xerox State and Local Solutions, a Texas-based company, with the city receiving $31.25 from each $40 ticket.
Both violations are civil citations and carry no points on a driver’s license.
Such “bounty” type deals have brought some criticism from state lawmakers, some of whom argue they put revenue ahead of safety.
Baltimore County Del. Jon Cardin (D-Dist. 11) said in a recent news release that the bounty programs hurt public trust in the cameras because they create a need to issue tickets, whether justified or not.
Although his comments were in reference to cameras in Baltimore City, he is working on legislation that would affect speed camera use statewide, according to Joshua Greenfield, Cardin’s legislative director.
Greenfield said the bill, which would affect speed cameras in local jurisdictions, would be introduced this week, but didn’t give specifics on what it would entail.
McClement said the city’s programs use officers to check the tickets before they’re mailed out, which also provides a way to monitor the tickets issued.
“Perception is always that it could be used for nefarious reasons,” McClement said. “That’s not the way we set up our contract — there’s checks and balances. ... If there’s more and more tickets being given out, something’s wrong.”
Revenues for both types of cameras have slowed somewhat in recent years, although the pattern is more evident with red-light cameras, which have been in use longer.
The city issued 36,915 speed citations for $1.2 million in revenue in fiscal 2012, the first year of their use, according to Lt. Richard Hetherington, commander of the Special Services Division.
The tickets are on pace for a reduction in fiscal 2013, with 13,243 citations and about $533,000 in revenue through Dec. 31, halfway through the fiscal year, Hetherington said.
The revenue for red-light cameras — and the number of violations — has decreased each year, Barkdoll said.
In fiscal 2012, the city issued 5,732 citations, down from 5,968 in 2011, Keckler said. Revenue decreased from $415,000 to $400,000.
The revenue has trended down since peaking at $488,000 in fiscal 2009 to $447,000 in fiscal 2010.
Keckler said the declining revenue and citation figures indicate the program is a success as drivers change their habits near red lights.
“Now that we’ve had this program established and running since 2005, the general public is already aware of it,” Keckler said. “It’s not brand new — you’re already seeing compliance. That’s why you see our camera citations decrease each year.”
Crashes have decreased, too.
In fiscal 2011 there were 18 crashes at monitored intersections, down from 19 in fiscal 2010 and 42 in fiscal 2009, according to Keckler.
“We’ve steadily gone down,” Keckler said. “... Citations are coming down. I think people are voluntarily complying with it — I think people are running fewer red lights.”
The new cameras will help increase public attention even further because they will allow officers to see a clearer picture of how the cameras work to prevent crashes, he said.
“There’s no hidden secrets,” Keckler said. “We want people to be aware of it; we want people to know about it. With awareness comes compliance.”
New city Police Chief Thomas Ledwell, who is in favor of the cameras, said the primary complaint from residents is about speeding in their neighborhoods, which the cameras can help alleviate.
“We think use them sparingly at locations we feel are the highest risk in the city,” Ledwell said. “They allow us to send our officers out on things other than long term speed and red-light enforcement efforts. ... The speed cameras allow us to essentially have an eye out in areas such as school zones during the hours that are determined to be necessary without us having to post an officer out there.”