Broken traffic enforcement cameras contributes to large drop in revenue for DC

It looks like someone wasn't minding the store. That is what one D.C. lawmaker is saying about a multimillion dollar shortfall after the D.C. Police Department failed to maintain traffic cameras.

The department is blaming the weather, but some are saying that excuse won't fly.

Last winter was a cold one and the polar vortex hit us hard, but is that a good excuse for not maintaining traffic cameras?

"I'm very upset about it," said D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh.

She is skeptical of a statement from a Metropolitan Police Department assistant chief who said because of the weather, "we could not change the batteries because they were not accessible, or the temperature affected the charge."

"So far, what I've heard about their explanations about why the maintenance and implementation hasn't been where it should be seems a little lame to me," said Cheh. "Because we have had cold weather, but we haven't had cold weather such that you couldn't check more."

D.C. Chief Financial Officer wrote the total shortfall in revenue from traffic cameras was almost $40 million in fiscal year 2014 and projected 2015 to be $78 million.

We are told maintenance and delays in the traffic camera programs are to blame.

"The District has taken within its fold to repair the speed cameras and maintain the cameras and they have fallen down on the job," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend.

So if D.C. had trouble, what about its neighbors who have speed cameras? Montgomery County police in Maryland told us, "Cold weather can be problematic, but Montgomery County did not have the same problems last winter to the degree it appears D.C. experienced."

To put this all in perspective, $128 million projected but not collected would have paid to rebuild another Ballou High School. That is why some leaders say D.C. police's excuse needs to be looked into.

"One way or the other, we have to find out what it is they did and what it is that needs to be done to fix it," Cheh told us.

We should point out all the revenue lost was not simply because cameras weren't maintained. Some believe drivers are simply not speeding or they know where the cameras are placed.

We reached out to the police department to ask if any disciplinary action would be taken because of the failure to maintain the cameras. We were told no.

Councilmember Cheh, who sits on the judiciary committee, said she would take part if a special hearing was called to look into it.

"During periods of extreme cold and snow last winter, there were instances when we could not change the batteries because they were not accessible, or the temperature affected the charge. We have taken additional steps to enhance internal temperature controls since last winter alleviating this problem.

"It should be noted that speed limits on some streets have been raised and more motorists are obeying the law and have begun to slow down.

"We are pleased that traffic fatalities decreased by ten percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. We continue to explore additional methods of enforcement to keep the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians who share our roadways daily safe. Prior to deployment of any photo radar device the area is assessed and evaluated. Data is showing that a large number of motorists are not speeding. Automated traffic enforcement is and always has been about safety and we are encouraged that drivers are modifying their behavior."