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"Atrocious" Driving In Baltimore County During Pandemic According To Police Chief

John Lee

Baltimore County’s police chief said Tuesday people are driving horrendously during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Melissa Hyatt told the Baltimore County Council speed cameras are catching about the same number of infractions as this time last year even though far fewer people are driving.

Hyatt said the police had been planning to beef up traffic enforcement farther down the road.

“But because the driving has been so atrocious, we actually initiated this plan at the end of last week,” Hyatt said.

Council members were told the county has 36 speed cameras that are moved around to 83 locations. The police want to add five more sites, based on citizen complaints.

Councilman Julian Jones questioned why speed cameras are on at all in school zones right now since all the buildings are closed.

“If schools have been out of session, those cameras should not be running,” Jones said.

Councilman Izzy Patoka said speeders are relentless and called for more speed cameras in the county.

“We need to stop the speeding in Baltimore County that will result in people being hurt or being killed,” Patoka said.

The comments about drivers and speed cameras came up during a county council budget hearing with the police department.

Baltimore County is facing a massive revenue shortfall, brought on by dwindling tax collections because of the COVID-19’s effects on the economy.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s administration is predicting a shortfall of more than $170 million. An analysis by the county council puts the figure higher than that.

The council is scheduled to pass a budget next week and is looking for places to make cuts.

Hyatt defended her proposed budget, including a doubling of the cost of speed cameras in the county. According to a report by the county auditor, the increase is due to a new vender charging the county a flat rate per camera rather than the previous per citation fee.

The proposed police department budget totals more than $268 million. The auditor’s report laid out more than $24 million in possible “pandemic economy” reductions in that budget. Much of that would come from cutting salaries.

Hyatt and council members raised concerns about being able to hire qualified officers.

“There has never been a more important time to attract and retain talent,” Hyatt said. “It has yet to be determined the effect of the pandemic as it relates to retirements or resignations.”

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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