- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Red-light cameras will not be coming to St. Mary's County in the near future. The sheriff's office was planning to start the initiative sometime in the next fiscal year.
Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) requested a new deputy in his budget to administer the red-light program on certain busy intersections along Route 235 in Lexington Park and California, particularly at Pegg Road — the main entrance to Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The majority of the commissioners said no to red-light cameras during Monday's budget meeting without hearing a formal briefing from the sheriff.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) criticized the sheriff for not bringing that presentation about the red-light cameras to the commissioners earlier to discuss the program.
“I've asked you repeatedly for months for a presentation,” Morgan told Cameron. “Instead,” the sheriff came “here with a budget [request] when you know you're not going to get three votes,” Morgan said.
“I am totally behind red lights, because my wife's dead because somebody ran a red light,” he said. Maria Morgan died at the age of 47 in 2012, a year after suffering a traumatic brain injury in an accident at the intersection of Route 235 and Millstone Landing Road.
Cameron had submitted a request to get on the commissioners' agenda, ultimately a presentation detailing how the program would work and where the money generated from tickets would go. Commission President Jack Russell (D) apologized to Morgan for not getting it on the agenda.
The sheriff's office will soon begin a separate program to catch via video drivers passing schools buses with their stop signs displayed.
After the meeting, Cameron said the red-light camera program needs commissioner approval to start.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) was absent from Monday's meeting for surgery, but provided a statement: “I will approve no budget that includes red-light cameras. I have supported cameras on school buses to protect children. Cameras on red lights create both dangerous situations and public distrust of law enforcement. Target drug dealers, not honest citizens,” he wrote.
“I don't support red-light cameras for St. Mary's County or any other jurisdictions,” Commissioner Cindy Jones (R) said. Jurisdictions that do have the program intentionally shorten the length of the yellow light at intersections to make more money by catching more drivers running red lights, she said, in turn causing more accidents.
Commissioner Dan Morris (R) also said he did not support red-light cameras.
Morgan said Tuesday, “The president [of the commissioners] has the prerogative to set the agenda. There's a large public safety issue here. If we don't want to address it publicly, then I have a real hard time with that.” Morgan said he was interested to hear from the county's judges on their thoughts on red-light cameras.
To decide on the matter without even hearing a presentation on it is “fundamentally wrong,” he said.
Cameron said Tuesday if the deputy had been approved, the red-light camera program would still have been about a year away.
“My plan is to revisit this,” the sheriff said after Monday's vote. “The work we have done is not for nothing.”
The general public is “far and away more favorable” toward the program, he said. “To me, it's about public safety, not money.”
Meanwhile at Monday's budget meeting, Morris criticized the sheriff about the number of police cruisers taken out of service by crashes.
Nine police cars were totaled last year, Morris said. that number, he said, “is unacceptable.”
Cameron said deputies were found to be at fault for seven of the nine crashes.
“I do understand wrecks happen,” Morris said. “But the idea of nine totaled vehicles — it seems a little excessive.”
Cameron said with an older fleet with high mileage, it's easy for a cruiser to be totaled by the insurance company even in a minor accident.
The draft budget calls for the replacement of 11 marked cruisers at $47,082 each (including the cost of the vehicle and radio equipment), the replacement of the nine totaled vehicles (for $4,827 less per vehicle by reusing radios), the replacement of two unmarked vehicles and a new van for the jail.
Morris said deputies need to drive more safely. “Maybe something should change to reduce the number of totaled vehicles,” he said.
The vehicles were totaled because “the cars were so old and had so many miles on them,” Cameron said. “It paints the picture these vehicles were demolished; that's not the case at all.”
Morris said his concern is “the citizen at the other end of the total.”
“The goal is to arrive safely,” said Brian Eley, commander of the administrative division of the sheriff's office. “It's not just the deputies, it's the citizen on the streets.”
In his statement, Jarboe said the sheriff's budget request should be reduced “until he can instill both vehicle and firearms safety into his organization.” A bullet was shot into a Wildewood home late last month in the vicinity of a private property the sheriff's office used for target practice. That property off Lawrence Hayden Road is not being used now as the shooting investigation continues.
Cameron said he is following the county commissioners' policy on replacing vehicles, which is generally at six years old with more than 125,000 miles.