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February 7, 2012

Do you like this?

Are you satisfied that your bumper stickers properly represent your politics, moral outrage, and level of pride in your children's achievements? Is the rear of your car its best angle?  If you're not sure, the Easton Police Department is offering to help; they will take a picture of the back of your car and  mail it to you along with a civil citation for $40. All you have to do is speed in a school zone.

The question of Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE)—also known as speed cameras—was raised at a public hearing on Monday, February 6th infront of the town council. The Easton Police Department has requested that the town council consider passing an ordinance allowing the deployment of a mobile based speed camera for the purpose of enforcing speed limits in school zones. According to the department’s research, there is a clear and significant problem with speeding in the vicinity of Easton High School and The Country School.

According to Maryland Annotated Code 21-803.1, the town is required to notify the public of the locations of the cameras on it's website and in the newspaper. In addition, signs indicating the use of ASE will be posted to notify the public of the presence of the system. Their use would be confined to Monday through Friday from 6 AM to 8 PM, year round and regardless of whether school is actually in session.

The system proposed for use in Easton would be a single car mounted speed camera that photographs the rear license plate of the vehicle and issues a digital citation that includes date, time, speed. This information then is reviewed by a police officer before a citation is issued to the registered owner of the vehicle. During the first 30 days of implementation, speeders will receive only a warning. Thereafter, a fine of $40 will be incurred by vehicles traveling in excess of 12 mph of the school zone speed limit.

The ASE program will be administered by a private subcontractor that provides and maintains the equipment for the town. The private company would take approximately $15 of the fine with the remaining $25 going to public safety programs for the town.

Montgomery County was the first in Maryland to use ASE in school zones in 2009. A study of their program reveals mixed results. The report claims a 28% reduction in the number of collisions occurring within a half mile of ASE locations. However, the report goes on to state that the rate of crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists "did not experience a parallel decrease." This concern was echoed by several Eastonians at the hearing, who also pointed to lack of evidence that school zones have any higher rate of injury than other parts of town.

Another major concern regarding the use of speed cameras is that jurisdictions use them for the purposes of revenue generation. Normally, a traditional traffic ticket would be paid to the Comptroller of the State of Maryland; under an ASE system, each infraction would generate $25 of income paid directly to the town. Those against the ASE argue that once the town begins to receive this additional revenue stream, there is only incentive for them to acquire more units and deploy them in as many locations as legally possible.

Still others are concerned about the potential abuse of a mass surveillance device. While the Easton Police Department and council stressed that this would not be the case, similar school zone cameras in Baltimore have come under fire for their use as government monitoring tools. City officials admitted to using the cameras to watch roadways outside of speed enforcement purposes.

As these and other objections were raised, alternatives such as speed humps and better signage were suggested to address the problem. An Easton Police Department representative, however, indicated that some alternative measures had been attempted, yet failed to decrease speeding in school zones.

Police Chief David Spencer ended the hearing by stressing that the Easton Police Department is requesting only one unit, which would function on a to-be-announced basis in one of seven school zones identified around the town. Chief Spencer urged the counsel to view the use of ASE as another available tool, allowing the police to do their job during a time where they are being asked to do more with less.

The record for this public hearing will remain open to public written comment through the close of business on Friday, February 10, 2012. Any written comments may be sent to Town Manager Robert Karge.

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February 7, 2012

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