Tuesday, April 24, 2012

WARNING: Montgomery County to Double Revenues from Red Light & Speed Cameras // ODD: More Cameras, Less Revenue?

UPDATE: A Maryland Juice reader notes that along with the increase in photo tickets residents can expect in the future, Montgomery County also wants to collect data about where we drive: "I think the County either already does or is planning to equip the red-light cameras with 'tag readers' so that the license plate number of every passing car is logged. There has been some interesting press coverage of tag reader policy in Moco. Apparently the MC police want to keep the data collected for a long time." 

After hearing this alarming news, Maryland Juice found news coverage about photo surveillance in MoCo, and it turns out that the slippery slope is happening faster then I thought. For example, residents of Chevy Chase now want to put surveillance cameras at the gates of their community! See a brief clip about additional photo surveillance controversy from The Gazette at the bottom of this post.

Last night, The Examiner's Rachel Baye published a story indicating that Montgomery County wants to double its revenues from speed cameras next year. Check out an excerpt from the article and an accompanying chart below. The Examiner's graph flags some peculiar math in the MoCo budget:

Fiscal 2011
Fiscal 2012 (estimated)
Fiscal 2013 (estimated)
Speed citations issued
Not available
Not available
Speed camera revenues
Speed camera expenses
Speed camera net revenues
Source: Montgomery County fiscal 2013 proposed operating budget

Somehow, the county is projecting that it needs to spend $8.4 million in 2013 (ie: over $3 million more than we spent in 2011) to make almost $1 million less money than in the past. In other words, MoCo residents can expect to see more photo surveillance than before, but without any increase in net revenue. The alternative is that these numbers are totally wrong, and the speed cameras will net far more revenue from residents and taxpayers than is currently being admitted. See an excerpt from The Examiner's coverage below:
Drivers in Montgomery County can look forward to 10 new portable speed cameras and 20 new red light cameras before the end of 2013.

The additions will bolster the county's existing 72 speed cameras -- 56 fixed pole cameras, 10 portable cameras and six speed camera vans -- and 40 red light cameras.

Last fiscal year, the county issued 487,820 speed and 40,294 red light citations, earning the county a net $9.7 million after paying for the camera vendor, the county police officers and other employees who run the program and other operating expenses, County Council documents show...

Speed camera programs have come under fire as ways for jurisdictions to take advantage of motorists and generate revenue....

Since the county will be moving the cameras around to different locations, the county should give motorists notice before moving a specific camera, said John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which has been critical of Prince George's County for failing to do exactly that.

However, since Montgomery County has had its speed cameras for several years, it has no requirements to provide advance notice or a warning period, Didone said....

See a brief article clip about additional photo surveillance controversies in Montgomery County. We include an excerpt from a fascinating article in The Gazette below:
GAZETTE: Police said newly-popular technology such as license plate readers is used to identify criminals, but privacy rights activists worry that in the absence of limitations, the data could be abused.

“They are tracking people — cars are just the instrument,” said Darian Unger, an assistant professor at the Howard University School of Business in Washington, D.C....

There are 36 license plate readers mounted on squad cars in Montgomery County....

Each reader can recognize more than 1,000 plates per hour, according to a 2007 report from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. That means police in the county could store more than 864,000 tags per day. Also generally stored are the date, time and location of the reading.....

There are no laws in Montgomery County that limit the amount of time data that can be maintained. Policies vary among departments....

Despite enthusiasm from law enforcement for plate readers, studies in the U.S. and the United Kingdom found they are not a deterrent to crime. They had no effect on car theft and auto-related crime in Alexandria City and Fairfax County, according to the Mason report....

Surveillance cameras

After a spate of burglaries in the Town of Chevy Chase, residents suggested cameras monitoring access points to the town, said Mayor David Lublin....

Although a proposal for surveillance cameras was turned down by Takoma Park City Council a year-and-a-half ago, one could be forthcoming in Chevy Chase Village....

State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park does see a decline in privacy, but blamed government surveillance as much as social networks such as Facebook, where millions of users post photos of their friends and family every day.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said there was an understandable increase in government surveillance, but speculated that we are entering a phase where people want to recapture a sense of privacy.

“We should never allow the speed cameras to lower everyone’s resistance to total government surveillance of people at all times,” he said. “We do not want to establish the expectation that everything you do can be subject to government surveillance and recording. That does get right back into the Orwellian nightmare.”

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