Here’s one issue where my libertarian streak lies wide open.  I live 10 miles from the District and although I take public transportation to work in the District every day, I do drive in the City on a semi-regular basis.  I try and uphold all traffic laws, but needless to say, I’m happy about the fact that nearly half of the City Red light cameras are broken.  Why?  I feel its a civil liberties issue.  I understand the city needs to get revenue for schools, stadiums (okay, I think stadiums should be privately funded) and Marion Barry’s rock habit (low blow, I know).  However, I really feel uncomfortable knowing that there’s 50 red light cameras in the city–even if I’m a law-abiding citizen. Even though the city needs money, there’s got to be a better way that doesn’t infringe on possible civil liberties. The city is not that big either. That’s got to be one for almost every major intersection.  I’m also glad to live in a state where camera lights are unconstitutional (its in the VA constitution according to a former Governor.   The article after the jump

Many D.C. Red-Light Cameras Broken
City May Have Lost Millions in Fines

By Nikita Stewart and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 13, 2007; A01

About half of the 50 red-light enforcement cameras in the District have been out of service in recent months, giving a pass to drivers and potentially depriving the city of millions of dollars in fines, according to a firm that has taken over the system.

Twenty-three of the cameras have not been working at all, and some have been out of service for as long as six months, according to a memorandum written by Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, which is to officially take over management of the cameras today.

“It’s unconscionable that these have been inoperable,” said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). “I’m not even talking from the revenue perspective. I’m talking from the safety perspective.”

In addition to lost revenue, the District might be liable for having issued speeding tickets that could be challenged, according to a March 11 memo that ATS sent to council members. The company said it found that radar equipment that detects speeding drivers had not been certified at two undisclosed sites for more than eight months.

The situation exposes “the District to evidentiary liability on tens of thousands of speeding violation notices for millions of dollars,” according to the memo.

“It is putting out in public the issue [of] whether a lot of tickets are legitimate,” said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). He said it was too early to say what would happen with potential challenges to traffic citations issued.

Although officials were not able to estimate the amount of lost revenue, the city has collected more than $40 million in fines from drivers photographed running red lights from August 1999 to January, according to the D.C. police Web site. More than $128 million has been collected for speeding violations in the automated system since 2001.

The cameras were managed during that time by a rival to ATS, Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, or ACS, which was criticized recently in a city audit for its poor management of the city’s 16,500 parking meters.

ATS officials said they conducted their survey of the equipment during a three-month contract period prior to assuming full control of the system.

Joseph M. Barrett, a spokesman for ACS, said in an e-mail that his firm would need time to “investigate the charges” but noted that the two companies have been in a dispute over the contract with the District. ACS, which lost the city contract from ATS about a year ago, has filed a complaint with the Contracts Appeal Board.

The police department is aware of the allegations, said Edward A. Hamilton, a civilian at the department with oversight of the photo enforcement and traffic violation system.

“We are reviewing, analyzing and assessing options concerning the allegations,” said Hamilton, who has been in his position for one month. “I have no concrete information to verify what ATS is saying. If there are issues, then we will work very diligently to identify the issues and work to find solutions and address the problems.”

Adam Tuton, chief operating officer of ATS, said his firm’s findings are not related to the appeal. “Before we can accept any camera, it has to be in fully operating condition. To date, a significant number of cameras don’t meet that condition,” he said.

The police department oversees the network of cameras throughout the city. Mendelson said the department also might be at fault for inadequate oversight. He sent a letter to Acting Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier yesterday, asking about the status of the cameras.

The memorandum “suggests that nobody has been paying attention to this contract,” he said.

Last month, the Office of the D.C. Auditor faulted the District Department of Transportation for its poor supervision of the ACS contract for parking meters. Auditors issued a report, citing missing and broken meters and showing that the management by ACS of the meters drove up costs by nearly $9 million from 1999 to 2005.

The city had renewed the ACS contract for the meters in October, and transportation chief Emeka C. Moneme vowed that his department would do a better job of monitoring ACS. “The contract is only as good as the contract manager,” he said during a hearing last month.

Norman Dong, a vice president at ACS, said in an e-mail yesterday that the audit is “flawed” and that his company boosted revenue for the city.

But council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said he had been troubled by the city’s continued relationship with ACS.

“Coupled with the ACS performance on parking meters, this doubles my concern,” he said. “Not only has their performance been poor on parking meters but on red-light cameras. . . . We have given them once again a major contract [for meters]. There’s something very wrong here.”

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