- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

D.C. police are ticketing motorists exceeding posted speed limits by as little as 2 mph with their photo-radar cameras despite earlier assurances by Chief Charles H. Ramsey that police would not "nitpick" drivers who go a few miles over the limit.
"We're not going to nitpick someone who is going four, five, six or seven miles over," said Chief Ramsey in the Aug. 9 editions of The Washington Times.
But "nitpicking" is exactly what is happening, according to motorists who have been served with tickets from Affiliated Computer Services, the private company hired to manage the District's recently expanded electronic speed-camera program.
George Brill, owner of Brill Plumbing and Heating in Germantown, Md., told The Washington Times he received a speed-camera ticket that says "Mr. Brill was going 27 mph in a 25 mph zone." Mr. Brill, 58, paid the $30 fine.
At least four other motorists have contacted The Times about tickets being issued that were for less than 5 mph over the posted speed limit.
D.C. police, after being questioned about the matter by The Times this week, said such tickets were probably issued by mistake.
The speed-camera program five mobile and two stationary cameras has raised almost a million dollars in new revenue for the District since starting in August.
The number of tickets issued has increased every month: 7,667 in August; 23,553 in September and 42,355 in October. The tickets have generated $848,000 in paid fines so far for the city.
In July, The Times reported that D.C. police expected to issue 80,000 tickets a month and reap $11 million a year in fines.
The cameras are monitored by D.C. police officers, who are paid their overtime rate to supervise the operation by Dallas-based ACS.
ACS makes $29 per photo-radar ticket issued and $32.50 for each red-light ticket issued, with the city collecting the remaining portion of the fine. So far, ACS, founded in 1988, has pulled in more than $500,000 from its photo-radar deal with the city.
The contract between the District and the Dallas firm calls for the city to net more than $117 million by 2004 from its red-light and speeding camera program, with ACS taking in $44 million.
ACS bought Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin IMS, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for $825 million in August the third major acquisition of the 26,000-employee company this year.
After being contacted by The Times, D.C. spokesman Kevin P. Morison said Mr. Brill's ticket which is being voided by the police was issued because of operator error. He also said that anybody else who was issued a ticket for going 2, 3, or 4 mph over the speed limit will have their tickets voided, or they will be reimbursed if they paid the fine.
"What happened in the case with Mr. Brill was the operator did not properly set the threshold," said Mr. Morison.
The D.C. police officer who checks each ticket in conjunction with ACS during the review process simply missed the ticket, he said.
Mr. Brill was caught speeding on Reno Road in Northwest, which is listed in D.C. maps as a residential street. Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer has acknowledged to The Times that the threshold for residential streets is lower than highways, but he did not say how fast drivers must go to get a ticket.
"We have said that there would be a threshold for the camera's [speed calibration], but we have never publicly said what that threshold would be, " Mr. Morison said, adding that "the threshold has been consistent everywhere to this point."
Still, Mr. Brill does not think the D.C. police were honest.
"This is robbery. I won't hold my breath that the District will reimburse me the money," said Mr. Brill.
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic and a former Arlington County police officer, said tickets that show drivers going only a couple of miles over the speed limit would not even be issued by human police officers.
"An officer would be hard-pressed to present a ticket like this before a judge," said Mr. McNaull said. "The same standards should apply to automated tickets."
Mr. McNaull said that Chief Ramsey should address the problem because "lapses like this undermine the credibility of the program."
Law-enforcement sources say police officers will typically not issue a ticket unless the vehicle is traveling at least 5 mph above the speed limit. Officers follow that policy because most driver's speedometers are 2 mph to 3 mph off the speed they see in their cars.
Court decisions from other states using speed radar and red-light camera technology raises the specter, too, of whether the District's program should even exist.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Sty criticized the idea of a private company extracting fines from motorists. That criticism led to a lower judge from that city throwing out about 300 red-light camera tickets.
D.C. officials defended the use of both red-light and photo-radar cameras even after the rulings.
But D.C. police are responding to some of the criticism. Mr. Morison said they are working out a new contract with ACS to pay a flat monthly fee for their management of the cameras. The new contract, which is in negotiation, should "eliminate any hint of a conflict of interest in the program."
Daniel B. Drummond contributed to this report.


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