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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Close Maryland's 'money cam' loopholes

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Last year, automated traffic camera reform died in a Maryland General Assembly committee. But that was before the Baltimore Sun reported that the cameras have a 5 percent error rate and have even issued citations to nonmoving cars. This year, Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, predicts a "stampede" of legislation to restore some semblance of accuracy and limit the operation of these devices, now ubiquitous in Washington and the Maryland suburbs.

It's about time. Local jurisdictions have been relying on the revenue produced by these "money cams" while closing their eyes to significant abuses, such as:

* In 2011, more than 2,000 tickets were "signed" by deceased Baltimore City Police Officer James Fowler. The problem was uncovered only after a retired cop recognized Fowler's name on a ticket he received for allegedly running a red light.

* A disabled 71-year-old Prince George's man was jailed for contempt when he tried to present photographic evidence to a judge that a traffic camera in Forest Heights was enforcing a 35 mph speed limit in a 40 mph zone.

* In 2012, another retired cop was fined for going 75 mph while driving a 40,000-pound RV and towing an SUV uphill, which he pointed out was physically impossible.

* A Riverdale police officer was suspended after protesting that his name and signature had been forged on thousands of speed-camera citations while he was out on leave.

* Current Maryland law requires the "operator" -- who presumably signs the cameras' daily set-up logs -- "to be present and testify at trial" if properly notified by certified mail at least 20 days before trial. However, StopBigBrotherMD.org reports that most jurisdictions won't even provide timecards to prove the operator was even working the day the citations were issued.

In 2008, Attorney General Doug Gansler advised Montgomery County on how to circumvent the law that forbids camera vendor fees from being contingent on the number of citations issued. Taking his advice, Montgomery officials slightly modified their contract, naming the county as the "operator," even though the camera vendor retains near total control of the system.

The refusal to honor defendants' constitutional right to confront their accusers in court and the payment of per-ticket "bounties" are not only deliberate circumventions of clear legislative intent, they're also egregious violations of the public trust. The closure of these cynical "loopholes" should be a top legislative priority.

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