Roadside cameras eyeing speeding drivers or red-light evaders are not a foreign site on Maryland roads. But now, new cameras popping up along local streets may seem to be pointed errantly off the road. Indeed not — the new cameras are trained on the other cameras, and not because they’re nice to look at.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Irate drivers have damaged six speed cameras in the state since April and now, the Automated Enforcement Section of the Prince George’s County police department is stepping in to prevent, or at least monitor, man vs. camera destruction.
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The violations were curiously creative and pretty ugly. The first incident occurred on April 6, when someone shot at a camera in Upper Marlboro, Md. Two weeks later, police believe several people toppled a heavy speed camera near Prince George’s Community College. In May, a perpetrator cut off one of the four legs of a camera near FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
The final straw was when someone burned down a speed camera near Bowie State College in early July.
Now, county officials are installing special cameras to deter frustrated drivers from exacting their rage. Prince George’s County Police Maj. Robert V. Liberati, who is in charge of the Automated Enforcement Section, told WTOP radio station that that kind of vandalism costs the county more than just money. “It costs us $30,000 to $100,000 to replace a camera,” he told WTOP. “That’s a significant loss in the program. Plus it also takes a camera off the street that operates and slows people down. So there’s a loss of safety for the community.”
The Washington, D.C., metro area, which includes Prince George’s County, is notorious for its voluminous traffic. Liberati acknowledged that the cameras are annoying not just because of the fees incurred through speeding ticket. When drivers do obey the speed limit (or drive under it, just to be sure) around the cameras, traffic slows down and can choke the surrounding roads.
Ironically, the cameras designed to snag speeders can’t also capture the perpetrators. Maryland law requires that speeding cameras only capture pictures of cars driving over the speed limit. Liberati hopes that the new cameras, of which there will be a dozen, will patch up this loophole. Speed camera vandalization is hardly a Maryland- or even U.S-centric occurrence. There is an entire webpage dedicated to photos of damaged Gatso cameras in the U.K.
Maryland is one of 24 states using red light and/or speed cameras. Only 12 states, including Maryland, use both.