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Residents, Police Clash at Hearing On Speed Cameras

Prince George’s County plans to roll out 100 speed cameras but residents question the devices' accuracy.

Residents and business owners clashed with police officials from agencies throughout Prince George’s County on Tuesday during a public hearing over a plan to roll out 100 speed cameras in jurisdictions throughout the county.

The county council approved legislation that would allow for the speed cameras in November 2009 but did not act on it until County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) issued a letter encouraging members to move forward with the plan.

Legislation for the cameras required the council to have a public hearing first and to establish a 21-member citizens advisory committee, composed mostly of residents, to decide where the cameras would be planned. 

But during Tuesday’s public hearing in Upper Marlboro, residents and business owners demanded that the council put the brakes on rolling out cameras without testing the equipment for accuracy. The cameras will be placed at locations over the next year.

William Foreman owns an auto parts store in Oxon Hill and told the council that his drivers received more than five tickets while driving along Indian Head Highway/Route 210, which has a speed camera for the town of Forest Heights. He said the cameras were inaccurately recording speeds for vehicles, a claim he was successfully able to defend in court for five of his tickets with the use of photos.

“I am not opposed to speed cameras,” he said. “I am opposed to speed cameras that wrongly accuse people of speeding.”

Richard Ladieu of Lanham drives a truck for the University of Maryland College Park and was able to get tickets he received along Paint Branch Parkway thrown out in court.

“They’re not accurate. It’s nothing but extortion .… You guys are implementing a law that’s unconstitutional,” he said before storming out of the hearing room.

Still, law enforcement officials from Hyattsville, College Park, Forest Heights and Seat Pleasant praised the cameras for significantly reducing collisions and getting drivers to slow down near school zones.

Prince George's Police Maj. Robert Liberati said the speed cameras are operated by an outside contractor but are checked frequently by police.  He called Foreman and Ladieu’s evidence “irrelevant” because photos cannot accurately record a vehicle’s speed.

Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington asked how police can justify cases being thrown out in court if the equipment is accurate.

Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel asked why only vendors maintain the cameras if there are disputes over accuracy.

“You have the fox watching the hen house," she said. "That makes no sense.”

Officers said the court systems have not been properly educated on speed camera technology, which allows for probable doubt when tickets are being disputed. Officer John O’Connor of Seat Pleasant Police said he frequently checks the accuracy of speed cameras and they have reduced fatalities and lightened workloads for officers.

“The cameras have significantly reduced [speeding],” he said.  “The speed cameras work. They’re outstanding.”

Some residents also welcome the cameras as a deterrent to cars speeding along roads that were not built to handle a large traffic flow.

George Kanellos of Upper Marlboro told the council that he’s seen an increase of accidents near his residence along South Osborne Road. He has repeatedly asked the county to install speed bumps, or even a street mirror that would allow him to exit his driveway safely.

“Naturally, what started as a county road has become a major thoroughfare,” he said. “It’s a shame when you can’t get out of your own driveway.”

Danny July 17, 2011 at 09:21 PM
@Joe -- no, my beef is with the cameras. the way a normal person drives is not at a steady rate of speed on every block. you push the gas as you go uphill, and you coast downhill. the only time people are unable to do this is when they know there's a camera or other artificial speed trap on the way down. in those cases, you cannot use the natural momentum from the hill to your advantage, and you have to accelerate hard on the next hill. NH ave in takoma park is, again, the perfect example, as there's a large uphill stretch after sligo creek. it's awkward, it's wasteful of gas, it's dangerous (since some know about the camera while others don't), and it's petty. why couldn't the camera be after sligo creek on the uphill stretch? instead, it's right in the valley for both northbound and southbound drivers. other pettiness: CP's eastbound camera on metzerott in the spot where the limit is reduced from 40 to 30 mph, in a location with no sidewalks and no pedestrian traffic. why not closer to 193, where there are sidewalks, pedestrians, churches, and student housing? not even to mention the route 1 cameras south of hyattsville... the speed limit changes so many times between the DC line and route 1 that it's ridiculous to expect drivers to adjust to each zone... and of course the camera is in the zone with the lowest speed limit.
Joe July 17, 2011 at 09:55 PM
@Danny: it sounds like you're an advocate of breaking the law (coasting downhill above the speed limit), and also against enforcing the law (not wanting speed cameras to catch you doing so)? The point of a speed limit is that you not break it, regardless of whether you're driving downhill like (your definition of) a "normal person." What you're describing still sounds like the root issue is the speed limit, not the camera enforcement. The core issue that you seem to be describing still sounds to me like you think the speed limits are set in a way that isn't most fuel efficient. If the speed limits were higher on downhill stretches of road to allow for this, and there was camera enforcement, then would you still have an issue? You could speed down a hill and let your momentum carry you up the next hill with impunity.
Jon Gulbuny July 17, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Is there ever going to be a time in the future when there are no more laws? Or does it just continue on forever? I realize that they get paid to write laws. But as citizens we should ake a 3 or 4 year break on new laws.
Danny July 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM
i'm an advocate of common sense and good, accountable government. this is how people have operated motor vehicles for a century, and the principle applies to bicyclists, too. now that speed camera technology has been developed, local governments have shortsightedly exploited the fundamental laws of physics to generate instant revenue, mostly from non-locals who don't know any better. i, personally, think that's a shame and not what i should expect from my elected officials. if coasting down a hill is the only law i break, then i consider myself a good citizen. if everyone else could say the same thing, perhaps we'd be better off as a society. if only there were camera technology to automatically fine litterers, those who spit or urinate on the sidewalk, those who blast their car radios with the windows down, those who soup up their cars in a loud and disruptive manner, those who sell things roadside without a license, those who smoke too close to building entrances, those who drive with non-working brake lights, those who eat and drink on the metro, etc. each of these infractions is more harmful to civil society, in my humble opinion, than coasting down a hill on a 6-lane major commuter route. and sure, if the cameras were set at a higher limit on NH avenue at the bottom of the hill, i'd be happier. but why not just position the cameras on a flat stretch? what's the value added to school-zone pedestrian safety of putting the cameras at the bottom of a hill?
J.W. Hampton July 22, 2011 at 10:38 AM
Hey L.H., Do you so vehementy decry the unfairness of a parking ticket as they too are issued to the OWNER of the heicle and not necessarily the individual who parked the car in violation. Contrary to your rant, speed cameras are not unconstitutional at any level. Liek a parking ticket, the owner of the vehcile determined to be in violation is notified of the violation; they are then given the opportunity to dispute the ticket in court (due process); and if they were not the person behind the wheel at the time the violation was committed, they can provide the court with the true violators name, and the citation will be re-issued to that person. Bottom line is, you are in total control. Don't speed (even though you're allowed 12 miles over the limit) and you won't receive a ticket.

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