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Hagerstown Police to calibrate speed cameras twice a year

Department is also testing the cameras weekly for accuracy

August 23, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • This speed camera along Northern Avenue in front of Northern Middle School is one of three that were found to have been improperly recertified.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

With school back in session in Washington County, Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman said his department is taking extra steps to ensure the accuracy of speed cameras and improve the public’s confidence in the system.

“It’s not about catching people speeding; it’s about reducing speed,” Holtzman said Friday.

One step the department is taking is to calibrate the 11 camera systems twice a year — twice what is required by Maryland law — to ensure they are operating properly, he said.

The cameras are also being tested for accuracy on a weekly basis, he said.

“We do real-world drive-bys of the system,” running police cruisers by the cameras to ensure they are accurately recording speeds, Holtzman said.

Police cars have certified speedometers, which enable an officer to be certain that the speed recorded by the camera matches how fast the cruiser was actually traveling.

In addition, if a camera fails, there will only be a few days of data to look back on, rather than weeks or months, he said.

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That was an idea Holtzman credited to Sgt. Johnny Murray, who used to oversee the Safe Speed for Students automated system.

Now, Officer Tim Rossiter has been appointed to administer the system. His duties include activating the cameras, performing checks on the system, approving citations and handling any inquiries about the program.

“We have one point of contact for the public to answer any questions the community might have about the system,” Holtzman said.

Not having the cameras calibrated annually resulted in the loss of more than $27,000 in potential revenue to the city, when the owner of a vehicle challenged three speed camera tickets in Washington County District Court earlier this year.

The problem was not the accuracy of the cameras, but the fact that when the units were delivered, they came with a 13-month certificate of calibration and were not recalibrated during the required 12-month period, Holtzman said.

In May, District Court Judge Mark D. Thomas dismissed the citations, because the camera in the 700 block of Northern Avenue had not been recalibrated within a 12-month period, as required by state law.

Holtzman said at the time that checks of all the radar cameras found that two others had also not been recalibrated.

More than 700 citations had been issued during the period when the cameras’ calibration certifications had lapsed, resulting in refunds being issued by Brekford Corp., a Hanover, Md., company that supplies the cameras and shares a portion of the citation proceeds with the city, Holtzman said in May.

The Hagerstown City Council approved ordinances to allow the cameras in school zones in January 2012, with the first one deployed on Northern Avenue in April.

Before the system was installed on Northern Avenue, other traffic-measuring devices showed that hundreds of cars passed by at speeds above 40 mph every day, Holtzman said. The figure has now been reduced to a few dozen a day, he said.

Anyone who wants to know where the cameras are installed can find out by going to the city website at hagerstownmd.org, click police under departments and print out a map, Holtzman said.

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