Residents and business owners clashed with police officials from agencies throughout Prince George’s County on Tuesday during a public hearing over a plan to roll out 100 speed cameras in jurisdictions throughout the county.
The county council approved legislation that would allow for the speed cameras in November 2009 but did not act on it until County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) issued a letter encouraging members to move forward with the plan.
Legislation for the cameras required the council to have a public hearing first and to establish a 21-member citizens advisory committee, composed mostly of residents, to decide where the cameras would be planned.
But during Tuesday’s public hearing in Upper Marlboro, residents and business owners demanded that the council put the brakes on rolling out cameras without testing the equipment for accuracy. The cameras will be placed at locations over the next year.
William Foreman owns an auto parts store in Oxon Hill and told the council that his drivers received more than five tickets while driving along Indian Head Highway/Route 210, which has a speed camera for the town of Forest Heights. He said the cameras were inaccurately recording speeds for vehicles, a claim he was successfully able to defend in court for five of his tickets with the use of photos.
“I am not opposed to speed cameras,” he said. “I am opposed to speed cameras that wrongly accuse people of speeding.”
Richard Ladieu of Lanham drives a truck for the University of Maryland College Park and was able to get tickets he received along Paint Branch Parkway thrown out in court.
“They’re not accurate. It’s nothing but extortion .… You guys are implementing a law that’s unconstitutional,” he said before storming out of the hearing room.
Still, law enforcement officials from Hyattsville, College Park, Forest Heights and Seat Pleasant praised the cameras for significantly reducing collisions and getting drivers to slow down near school zones.
Prince George's Police Maj. Robert Liberati said the speed cameras are operated by an outside contractor but are checked frequently by police. He called Foreman and Ladieu’s evidence “irrelevant” because photos cannot accurately record a vehicle’s speed.
Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington asked how police can justify cases being thrown out in court if the equipment is accurate.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel asked why only vendors maintain the cameras if there are disputes over accuracy.
“You have the fox watching the hen house," she said. "That makes no sense.”
Officers said the court systems have not been properly educated on speed camera technology, which allows for probable doubt when tickets are being disputed. Officer John O’Connor of Seat Pleasant Police said he frequently checks the accuracy of speed cameras and they have reduced fatalities and lightened workloads for officers.
“The cameras have significantly reduced [speeding],” he said. “The speed cameras work. They’re outstanding.”
Some residents also welcome the cameras as a deterrent to cars speeding along roads that were not built to handle a large traffic flow.
George Kanellos of Upper Marlboro told the council that he’s seen an increase of accidents near his residence along South Osborne Road. He has repeatedly asked the county to install speed bumps, or even a street mirror that would allow him to exit his driveway safely.
“Naturally, what started as a county road has become a major thoroughfare,” he said. “It’s a shame when you can’t get out of your own driveway.”