ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers concerned that red-light-runner and speeder-nabbing cameras are more cash cows for cities and counties than crime busters argued for their bills to restrain the use of the technology before a Senate panel Tuesday.
One bill before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, sponsored by Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, R-Frederick, calls for repealing the use of cameras statewide, except in school zones, at railroad crossings or when police officers are present to issue citations on the spot.
Without such controls, Mooney said, the cameras represent an “overly intrusive big government invading (citizens’) privacy,” and impose uniform punishment without allowing for human discretion to judge the severity of the offense.
“A police officer can interpret the seriousness of the crime,” Mooney said. “The camera can’t do that.”
The cameras also impinge on the constitutional rights of citizens by presuming their guilt and not allowing them to face their accusers, said lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who favors repealing all cameras in the state.
Baltimore Police said the cameras are an invaluable aid to a force stretched to cover all areas.
“This (cameras) will allow us to send officers to higher crime areas where we need them,” said Col. Kenneth Blackwell.
The General Assembly approved the use of red-light cameras statewide in 1998.
Since that time, police have promoted the cameras as an important public safety tool and presented statistics demonstrating red-light related accidents and violations have decreased.
However, opponents charge municipalities and the vendors they contract with use the cameras primarily for generating extra revenue rather than ensuring public safety.
The primary complaints have surrounded the use of a “bounty” system, where vendors are paid on a per-citation basis rather than a monthly flat fee; the inaccuracies of the cameras; the shortening of yellow-light intervals to generate more citations; and the inconvenience for innocent victims of inaccuracies having to appear in court to appeal their citations.
A House bill calling for a task force to monitor the cameras statewide, sponsored by Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, was rejected last week.
But in the Senate, both sides of the issue are alive and well.
Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, sponsored a measure to ensure all traffic signals in Baltimore using red-light cameras display a yellow light for at least four seconds, in order to adhere to statewide standards.
While a bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, called for the use of radar cameras to nab speeders and would authorize police to issue citations for $100. A similar bill died last year in the committee.
“This bill has nothing to do with catching speeders,” said committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, who called it “just another tax” on citizens. “It has to do with making money for the subdivisions (with the cameras).”
Citations from the cameras would not be considered moving violations or affect insurance rates.
Forehand defended her measure, saying the bill is primarily to protect residential communities that are used as alternate routes because of severe traffic problems in some counties.
But opponents warned that use of cameras would suffer from the same kinds of inaccuracies that have plagued the red-light cameras — innocent drivers targeted due to misread license plates.
“You have received no testimony that this equipment is without fallacy or without error in terms of photographing a moving object and determining speed,” Bereano said. “Everyone just assumes that’s OK.”
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