- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Hundreds of unsuspecting drivers who whizzed past unmarked D.C. police cruisers manned with automated photo radar equipment yesterday will soon find speeding tickets in their mailboxes.
"Our worst fears were realized," Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said of the high number of speeders caught by the cameras. "[The cameras] were picking up a lot of people going excessively fast, not just a little fast."
Speeding motorists captured electronically by the new photo radar equipment will be issued tickets ranging from $30 for minor infractions to $200 for violators exceeding limits by at least 20 mph.
The radar works like this: When a vehicle enters a pinpoint radar beam going at or above the speed limit, a camera is timed to take a picture of the rear of the vehicle.
Lockheed Martin IMS, which operates the radar cameras and processes the tickets for the District, then reviews the photo and obtains information about the vehicle from the appropriate department of motor vehicles. The citation then is sent to the owner of the vehicle.
Police spokesman Kevin P. Morison would not divulge the threshold for each camera but noted that it would be lower for residential areas, school zones and places where speeding is rampant.
"If you are driving one mile over the limit, I don't think you are going to get a ticket," Mr. Morison said.
The department did not have detailed data on the number of drivers caught speeding yesterday, but Mr. Morison said the preliminary results indicated that the cameras would be even busier than projected.
"We found about three in 10 drivers were exceeding the speed limit by 11 mph or more," Mr. Morison said.
Police plan to rotate five mobile cameras among 60 speed enforcement zones at least two or three times a week, Monday through Saturday, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., Mr. Morison said. One of the new photo radar units is in a fixed location near Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
The enforcement zones are posted for the public on the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.org ), Mr. Morison said. The units, mounted in specially modified Ford Crown Victorias, will be used in mostly residential areas in the morning and will move later in the day to highways and busy thoroughfares.
The units are monitored by off-duty police officers paid overtime by Lockheed, which also has paid for the cruisers.
Master Patrol Officer R.J. Brady, one of the officers working for Lockheed, said the units will help make streets safer.
Officer Brady parked his unit on MacArthur Boulevard NW during the afternoon rush hour yesterday.
"It will make a significant difference once people know that this is a location," he said.
Officer Brady said it will be Lockheed, not an officer, who will go to court if a ticket is challenged.
Sally Strain, 48, who lives along MacArthur Boulevard, said there are better ways to slow traffic.
"I would rather see traffic-calming devices like flashing yellow lights, speed bumps or even narrowing certain problem streets," Miss Strain said.
The cruisers donated to the police are worth $100,000 apiece, but Lockheed is confident its investment will pay off: The Bethesda-based company will receive $29 of every ticket paid.
In its contract with Lockheed, the District projected that the cameras would generate 80,000 speeding tickets a month, netting the District more than $11 million in fines this year. The District issued a total of about 10,000 tickets last year.
"If speeding is as rampant as red-light running, then it is a pretty good estimate," Chief Gainer said.
The city has pocketed more than $12 million in fines from 230,000 violations captured on film by the 39 red-light cameras it has had in place since 1999.
During an early-morning patrol yesterday of one of the enforcement areas along Georgia Avenue, more than 80 drivers were caught speeding in a three-hour period, Mr. Morison said.
"We are trying to respond to residential concerns about high speed," he said, noting the speed limit for residential areas is 25 mph, as it is for the rest of the District unless otherwise posted.
Both Chief Gainer and Mr. Morison said the cameras — red light and photo radar — save lives and reduce the number and severity of accidents.
Mr. Morison said statistics show speed is a factor in about 55 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the District.
"Speed costs between 25 and 30 lives a year," he said.
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said his group has concerns D.C. police might be looking more at the financial rewards of using the cameras than their safety benefits.
"You would expect the safety effort to be accompanied by substantial resources to combat the problem," Mr. McNaull said.
The District should have a much higher-profile public-awareness campaign to address the dangers of speeding and more officers on the streets enforcing speed limits, he said.
Mr. McNaull, a former Arlington County police officer, said one of the biggest drawbacks to the cameras is that they won't stop drunken drivers or criminals.
"If a drunk driver with a suspended license rolls through a camera just shy of 30 miles over, they are just going to get a picture in the mail a couple of weeks later," he said. "Cameras can scare people into compliance, yet they don't halt people who are engaged in dangerous behavior."
Chief Gainer said drivers caught going 30 miles over the posted speed limit will be pulled over for reckless driving. Also, he said, D.C. police are still "aggressively" going after reckless and drunken drivers.
* Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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