Behind the scenes of a decision to shut down speed cameras
By Scott Calvert, The Baltimore Sun
3:30 p.m. EDT, May 18, 2013
The emailed directive went out midmorning April 16 from a Baltimore City traffic engineer: No more speed camera tickets are to be issued from the camera in the 3900 block of The Alameda. Less than five hours later, an engineering supervisor wrote another email, stating that the city's entire speed and red-light camera network was being suspended.
The emails, provided by the city in response to a Public Information Act request, offer a glimpse at how transportation officials made a major decision about a controversial program that has caused recurring headaches for the city and many motorists. This time, a camera was programmed with the wrong speed limit, and there was a problem with how payment options were listed on tickets.
The city says the automated enforcement program was suspended April 15, and records show the reverberations of that decision played out through the following day — after The Baltimore Sun noted a motorist's concern about an errant ticket issued on the Alameda.
On Friday, city transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said the decision to suspend the program came after a face-to-face meeting with representatives of the city's new vendor, Brekford Corp.
The emails make clear that by April 15, city officials had concerns about Brekford. Acting Transportation Director Frank Murphy emailed top agency officials midday to say that company executives would attend an afternoon meeting "so we can discuss problems."
Murphy did not detail those problems.
The Sun was unaware of the meeting when, on the following morning, it sent transportation officials detailed questions about the Brekford speed camera on The Alameda.
A little over an hour later, city engineer Carlos Vidal emailed Brekford, describing the same problem with the camera and ordering it taken "out of enforcement mode." A Brekford official soon replied that had been done. If the system had been suspended a day earlier, it's not clear why any speed or red-light cameras still would have been in enforcement mode.
Around 3:15 p.m. on April 16, city engineering supervisor Jamie McDonald notified several officials in city government and at Brekford that no more speed and red-light camera tickets would be issued citywide for the indefinite future.
"We are suspending the program as far as approving locations and issuing citations until further notice," he said in an email. "We have all worked hard and made a lot of progress but there are still some issues that we need to address before we can move forward."
A half-hour later, Khalil Zaied — Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's deputy chief of operations — told Murphy to inform Brekford CEO C.B. Brechin of the city's decision. Murphy wrote back, saying he had spoken to another company executive. "I informed him," Murphy said.
The department publicly announced its decision a short while later.