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Denver audit suggests photo-radar program badly managed

By Mark P. Couch
The Denver Post

Denver's photo-radar program is so poorly managed that city officials do not know how much it costs to run the program, according to an audit released Tuesday.

Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher also found that an unknown number of drivers have been overcharged fines as a result of the mismanaged program.

"They simply don't know how many people have overpaid," said Gallagher's spokesman, Denis Berckefeldt.

The Denver Police Department and ACS State and Local Solutions, the company hired to run the photo-radar program, are still sorting out how many people have paid too much and deserve a refund.

The audit doesn't say how much the program has collected in fines, either.

The audit found that the most common billing problem was related to speeders who paid their fine twice.

"In that circumstance, the city should not, in good faith, retain funds it knows were paid in error or by mistake," the audit states.

Denver's photo-radar program, which uses cameras to nab speeding drivers, has been hotly contested. It was the source of a dismissed class-action lawsuit in 2002 and was briefly suspended that year by a different court ruling.

The primary management problem discovered by the audit, which covered the period between January 2002 and March 2003, is that no city official can explain how much it costs.

"We were told by the budget and management office that it was supposed to be a self-sustaining program, but nobody can tell you how much it costs to run it," Berckefeldt said.

The costs are supposed to be covered by the ticket charges.

But Gallagher found that many costs of the program were not assigned to it. For example, the cost of fuel and maintenance for some city vehicles was not assigned to the program. In another case, the program was charged payroll costs for more Denver County Court workers than had been assigned to it.

To figure out the costs, Gallagher recommended the creation of a special fund that separates the program from the city's general fund. That would make it easier to calculate the costs and revenues of the program.

The audit also found operational problems.

"There is not a system in place to document any problems with the cameras and vans," the report said. Another problem is that ACS, a Dallas-based company, failed to follow the city's rules for setting up the vans that snap speeders' pictures.

The auditor's office found "insufficient supervision of van drivers." City rules restrict photo radar to neighborhood areas or school zones, but ACS' van drivers were selecting locations.

A company spokesman said the company would work with the city to fix any problems.

"ACS will work with the client," spokesman Joe Barrett said. "We're very proud of the program and the successes we've had. Anything that needs to be improved, ACS will work to the city to help them improve."

From the city side, the primary reason for the problems is that the Police Department does not have a full-time employee assigned to manage the program, the auditor said.

In the audit report, the Police Department said it agrees that a sergeant should be assigned to monitor the program, but that its requests for funding for the extra position have been denied.

Detective Teresa Garcia said Tuesday that Police Chief Gerry Whitman has not yet reviewed the audit.

"It is certainly going to put a strain on us," Garcia said of assigning a full-time position to the program. "We will review all available options."