- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

It's bad enough that the District's automated radar ticket factories are fleecing ordinary motorists. Now we learn that the ticket factories are slowing down the response time of police and other emergency vehicles which, of course, threatens public safety.

As reported last week by this newspaper's Brian DeBose, several (probably many) D.C. police officers are sticking to the exact letter of the law, even when on Code One (robberies in progress, gunshots fired, violent crime, etc.) emergency calls, because they don't want to have to deal with endless reams of "paying paper" issued by the automated photo-radar units. The photo-radar units, of course, do not have the ability to distinguish a police vehicle from other vehicles and have no way of being able to decide whether getting to a crime scene quickly trumps driving under 25 mph, which is the maximum legal speed limit on most D.C. streets.

"Officers are getting crazy tickets, in their cars on duty from the speed and red-light cameras," Sgt. Gerald G. Neil told Mr. DeBose. "A lot of them have actually had to pay the fines." Each ticket can amount to $100 to $200, so the looming financial threat is not inconsiderable emergency or no emergency. It's certainly easy to understand why the officers are slowing down, even if that means criminals get several long moments to conclude their illegal activities before an officer arrives on the scene.

Also, while the tickets are theoretically subject to appeal, the police must go through the same Bureau of Traffic Adjudication nightmare as ordinary citizens which means stultifying paperwork and impenetrable ukase that would make the worst Third World bureaucracy seem efficient and fair by comparison. Police, just like the rest of us, have enough to do without having to waste half a day or more in an almost certainly futile attempt to "appeal" a ticket.

Although Lt. Patrick Burke, the police department's traffic-safety director, told Mr. DeBose that officers are exempt from tickets when they are on Code One calls, several officers disputed this. "I got two speeding tickets and one red-light ticket," one officer, who did not wish to be named, told the reporter. Others have apparently complained as well, and Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer has been made aware of the problem.

It's unfortunate that it has taken police officers being hampered in the performance of their vital duties to call attention to the perniciousness of photo-radar enforcement. Perhaps this embarrassment will renew debate about the wisdom of subjecting motorists to blanket surveillance with little hope of appeal. As the threat to public safety proves, something must be done.

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