Police chief denounces 'cowardly' iPhone users monitoring speed traps

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Local,Hayley Peterson

Area drivers looking to outwit police speed traps and traffic cameras are using an iPhone application and other global positioning system devices that pinpoint the location of the cameras.

That has irked D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier, who promised her officers would pick up their game to   counteract the devices, which can also help drivers dodge sobriety checkpoints. 

"I think that's the whole point of this program," she told The Examiner. "It's designed to circumvent law enforcement -- law enforcement that is designed specifically to save lives."

The new technology streams to iPhones and global positioning system devices, sounding off an alarm as drivers approach speed or red-light cameras.

Lanier said the technology is a "cowardly tactic" and "people who overly rely on those and break the law anyway are going to get caught" in one way or another.

The greater D.C. area has 290 red-light and speed cameras -- comprising nearly 10 percent of all traffic cameras in the U.S., according to estimates by a camera-tracking database called the POI Factory.

Lanier said the cameras have decreased traffic deaths. Red-light and speed cameras have been a hot topic in Montgomery County since Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill in May allowing local governments to place speed cameras in school and highway construction zones.

Montgomery County police did not respond to calls and e-mails for this story.

Ralph Ganoe of Silver Spring said he uses detection software from a Washington-based company, PhantomAlert, to avoid speed traps and crowded intersections.

"Well, my pocket has money in it," Ganoe quipped, when asked about the software's impact on his driving record. "Everybody's got a heavy foot. ... Now I don't have to worry about where [the cameras] are at."

PhantomAlert mimics radar detectors — which are outlawed in D.C. and Virginia — by alerting drivers of nearby enforcement "points of interest" via global positioning system devices. PhantomAlert keeps up to date on traffic enforcement through its users, who contribute information online.

Founder and CEO of PhantomAlert Joe Scott claimed nine out of 10 police departments across the country support his software.

"If police come against us, it's going to make them look like they are only [after] revenue" from the camera-generated citations, he said.

Photo radar tickets generated nearly $1 billion in revenues for D.C. during fiscal years 2005 to 2008.

In the current fiscal year, Montgomery County expects to make $29 million from its red light and speed cameras. Lanier said efforts to outlaw the software would be too difficult.

She said, "with the Internet and all the new technology, it's almost impossible to stop the flow of information."

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