- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

Police officers responding to emergencies are flagged constantly by the automated red-light and speed cameras in the District, forcing them to waste hours getting the tickets dismissed in court, according to the Fraternal Order of Police.

“It’s just an enormous waste of resources and an enormous waste of time,” Kristopher Baumann, the D.C. union’s chairman, told The Washington Times. “Officers have had to spend months writing letters and getting different approvals to show what they were doing.”

The District has installed 49 red-light cameras and 10 speed cameras that take photographs of offenders’ license plates and issue tickets that are sent through the mail. Twelve patrol cars are equipped with similar automated cameras.

Mr. Baumann said officers are captured by the cameras as many as 10 to 15 times a day. His union represents the Metropolitan Police Department’s 3,400 officers, sergeants and detectives.

D.C. police Capt. Melvin Gresham said while officers sometimes get tickets while responding to a legitimate emergency, the cases are dismissed. He also said he hasn’t received any complaints from officers about the tickets.

“We have had individual instances where officers on legitimate calls for emergency services were captured by photo red-light cameras, and as longas they can justify their actions, then more than likely the infraction will be dismissed,” he said.

Still, officers must spend a considerable amount of time dealing with them, and there have been instances where officers have paid their tickets to avoid the hassle, Mr. Baumann said.

Officers must deal with the tickets either by mail or through court.

When trying to get the ticket dismissed by mail, an officer must write a letter saying that he or she was on duty at the time and obtain a letter from a commander, as well as get radio logs and other data that would prove they were responding to a legitimate emergency.

But some get called to court, where they must explain where they were and what they were doing at the time the cameras captured their vehicle.

“These are man hours that could be spent actually doing police work,” Mr. Baumann said.

A member of the D.C. police department, who asked not to be identified, said he has been flagged by the speed cameras numerous times in the past two years. He thinks officers have been ticketed hundreds of times since the inception of the District’s automated traffic-camera program in 1999.

The last time he received a ticket, he had to make an appointment with an adjudicator and show evidence that he was on an emergency call — in this case, a traffic accident in Northwest.

“It’s a waste of time and money,” the department member said. “I’m on duty when I’m down there.”

Other police departments in jurisdictions that have speed or red-light cameras have systems in place that don’t require officers to go to court.

In Baltimore, officers usually have to spend a few minutes gathering the evidence necessary to get an automated ticket dismissed, a process which is done in-house if the officer has been determined not to be at fault, Baltimore city Fraternal Order of Police President Paul M. Blair Jr. said.

“We’re still handling them administratively — we’re not making them go to court,” he said. “If you know what day it was and what you were doing, and you have a plate number, it takes about five minutes to write [a report] out.”

However, all Metropolitan Police Department officers who receive tickets in the District must deal with the courts. Mr. Baumann said an in-house system for dealing with tickets could eliminate much of the problem.

“What the department needs to be doing is circumventing this process up front,” he said.

Mr. Baumann said he hopes to discuss the issue with interim D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

The union’s concerns “have fallen on deaf ears,” ever since the officers began getting tickets, he said.

The District’s automated traffic-enforcement program has collected more than $129 million since 1999. The city’s red-light cameras have generated more than $34 million, including $5.2 million last year.

The speed cameras have generated nearly $95 million in fines since they were added to the program in 2001, including a record $28.9 million last year.

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