How area Police Departments and area Governments use and spend speed camera ticket revenue

Maryland Law requires the reporting of a description of how net revenue was used

By: John Townsend, Mid-Atlantic AAA

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Thursday, December 12, 2019) –– 40 MM multi-launchers, which fire sponge-tipped rounds effective at a 120-foot range, a robot, aviation tactical mapping systems, fingerprint scanners, three canines, K-9 supplies, fixed license plate reader engineering and permits, data storage fees to outfit all Patrol Deputies with body-worn cameras, and weapon parts and accessories. These are some of the items purchased by local governments and law enforcement agencies in Maryland from the net revenue generated by speed camera tickets during Fiscal Year 2018, a review by AAA Mid-Atlantic reveals. Critics have lambasted the speed camera ticket windfall as “revenue generators.” As proof, they say, many municipalities and localities are using the net speed camera ticket revenue in their coffers to fill budget holes.

Speed camera programs across Maryland ticketed 6.3 million motorists, and generated over $288.5 million in gross speed camera fine revenue in the period from FY 2014 to FY 2018, tabulates AAA Mid-Atlantic. Some Maryland municipalities and localities are using the net revenue derived from speed camera ticket fines and fees to pay for snow removal operations on city streets, street lighting, vehicle mileage, and police part-time salaries, and fringe benefits. Under state law, the net photo radar revenue must be spent to invest in public safety and road safety, such as pedestrian safety programs, and to protect the general public.

Some local agencies in Maryland are refusing to detail how they are using the net speed camera revenue, and a few are defining “public safety” with a wide berth. As The Baltimore Sun reported last year, the City of Baltimore planned to use four million dollars generated by its revived speed camera program “to balance the Fire Department’s budget.” Yet some advocates, including AAA Mid-Atlantic, contend the net revenue should be spent on reducing crash risks and vehicle speeds, mitigating traffic fatalities and the severity of injuries, especially in school zones, and on deploying enforcement, traffic calming and road design countermeasures to protect the lives and limbs of children walking or riding buses or bicycles to schools.

“Across the nation, the motoring public has a crisis of confidence in the cost and accuracy of automated traffic enforcement tickets, and some motorists are alarmed about where the prodigious revenue sum goes, and how the windfall is spent,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public And Government Affairs. “Maryland is one of the few places in the country where speed camera programs are legally required to publicly disclose how the revenue is used, which improves the transparency surrounding such programs.”

Maryland jurisdictions are required to file annual Speed Monitoring Systems reports under the provisions of Maryland Transportation Article §21-809(k). During 2014, members of the Maryland General Assembly passed the Speed Monitoring Systems Reform Act of 2014 (House Bill 929/Senate Bill 350). The law is crafted to curtail speed camera program abuses, narrow the definition of a school zone, ensure the accuracy of speed camera tickets and citations, and to prohibit slapping motorists with erroneous tickets. 

The statewide speed camera reform law also requires law enforcement agencies or localities operating speed camera programs to self-report the total number of citations issued and the gross revenue generated by their speed camera programs. In addition, the law requires agencies and entities to provide “a description of how the net revenue generated by the program was used.” During the first year of the required reporting, Fiscal Year 2015, some Maryland municipalities and law enforcement agencies reported they spent net speed camera revenue on public safety protocols, to install sidewalks on streets in school zones; to purchase police equipment, patrol vehicles, vehicle equipment, and computers, crime prevention material; to support public safety programs; and to hire new police officers. By FY18, one department used it to pay fringe benefits.

Other notable purchases and procurements from net photo-radar ticket revenue included “pedestrian safety enhancement items, including curb bump-outs, and pedestrian crossing alerts for senior citizen housing area, and train track underpass height sensors.” During FY 2016, a local police department reported it used its net speed camera revenue to “make scheduled payments and repairs on patrol vehicles for public safety.” It also said “revenue assisted in continuing the Lexipol training program for Police officers.”

Under Maryland law, law enforcement agencies, municipalities and localities operating speed camera programs are permitted to spend any remaining balance from speed camera programs “solely for public safety purposes, including for pedestrian safety programs,” explains the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. “However, if the balances of revenues after cost recovery for any fiscal year is greater than 10% of the jurisdiction’s total revenues, the excess must be remitted to the Comptroller.”

Contrary to the statewide speed camera reform law, although some jurisdictions filed annual reports as required, they failed to provide a description of how they used the net revenue. One countywide speed camera program reported, “Net Revenue remains in the fund – nothing spent during FY16.” The 2014 speed camera reform act requires the Maryland Police Training Commission to “compile and make publicly available an annual report on each local speed monitoring system program.” During FY 2016, a Maryland locality reported: “The City used the net revenues for crossing guards and building purchase for a new police station.” Another town reported it used the revenue for the “restoration of three Fire Captain positions and Police Tasers.”

During FY 2017, one local government provided one of the most detailed descriptions of how it used its net speed camera revenue. It reported it spent it on “a 2016 Ford Transit Van $28,730.15, Installation of new computer docking stations, power supplies, external antennas, installation of lights, and siren systems on patrol cars $5,864.60, Laptop computers for Patrol cars $25,264.00, Lexipol LLC Policy and Procedure licensing and programming $14,620, Magnetic door decals $84.00, Body cameras $5,658.62, All Traffic Solutions computer upgrades and software $4,500.00, and crowd control barricades $8,794.00.”

One department used some net ticket revenue for “housing allowance incentives for officers residing in city limits” in FY 18. “Raising taxes is painful. That may be why, since 2010, 47 states and a number of cities have instead raised both civil and criminal fines and fees,” as Governing magazine explains. “These increases are often viewed as a conflict-free way to plug budget holes.” During FY 2018, “six counties and Baltimore City and 38 other jurisdictions or localities” in Maryland operated speed camera programs in school zones.

Other critics warn, “While most citizens understand that penalties and fines are key components of effective law enforcement and public-safety protocols, few are likely aware that governments use citations as a means to enact stealth tax increases.” Concerned? Maryland’s statewide speed camera reform law of 2014 also required jurisdictions to designate a person to act in a public liaison capacity to investigate concerns from the motoring public about the local “speed monitoring system program.”

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