Several current and former D.C. police officers have joined the growing list of critics of the city’s new radar cameras, saying they are intended more to raise money than to slow speeding drivers.
“A money grab.” That’s what retired Sgt. Anthony Bell called the District’s new electronic traffic enforcement cameras. “What is the city trying to do? Stop speeders or get money? If they are trying to increase revenue for the city, they should just say so,” he said.
Sgt. Bell is one of several retired and active-duty D.C. police officers who have contacted The Washington Times in recent days to comment on an ongoing series of stories about the cameras, which critics have said turn law enforcement into a profit-making venture.
The District’s program is managed by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services, which operates five mobile cameras and one stationary camera in the city. The cameras, which made their official debut on Washington streets in August, are monitored by police officers working on overtime and paid by ACS. Since then, the cameras have generated more than 70,000 tickets and more than $1.4 million in fines. An estimated $848,000 of that went to the city, and almost $600,000 to ACS, which charges the city a fee of $29 per photo-radar ticket paid and $32.50 for each red-light ticket.
Larry Murchison, a patrol officer for the District, said he thinks the cameras have deterred speeders. But he thinks the District should require officers to appear in court to face motorists captured by the cameras. The officer who operated the camera should be made to appear in court to tell people the operation and calibration of the camera on the day they got the ticket, he said.
And if the city is going to use the cameras, said Officer Murchison, an 11-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, there should be more signs put up telling motorists the speed limits and warning about the cameras.
“A lot of times speeding is related to people not seeing the signs,” he said. “If we post more signs, people can’t use the argument ‘I didn’t see the speed limit.’ If you put [photo-radar] signs up that leaves even less room.”
Joan Pederson, Wadiah Fuller and Denise Niner, who all work at the Washington Hospital Center, called The Times to complain that they were issued tickets in the 200 block of Michigan Avenue NE, where they say there isn’t a speed limit posted for miles.
Kevin P. Morison, a spokesman for the D.C. police, said the city has put up signs alerting residents to the speed-camera enforcement. There are signs posted on New York Avenue, 18th Street, Suitland Parkway and other roads throughout the city. And, he said, “we spent a whole month warning people.”
It isn’t enough, say many motorists and some officers.
“Half the time, speed limits are not posted on roads in D.C.,” said retired D.C. Detective John Hawkins of Mitchellville, Md.
He said the city’s speed cameras are “unfair” for that reason and scolded the adjudication process that offers drivers little possibility of successfully protesting a citation.
“You should be able to protest a ticket at all times, but with these you have no reasonable ability to protest,” said Detective Hawkins, who served for 18 years.
Sgt. Bell, who retired in 1986 from the youth division after 23 years on the force, said he has a hard time believing the department’s contention that the program is about public safety and not revenue.
“If you want to stop a string of robberies or any crimes in an area, you put uniformed officers there and it stops. If you want to catch people you use plainclothes officers,” he said. “The same principal should be applied to these speed cameras.”
If the city is serious about defusing criticisms of profiteering, he said, it should stop hiding cameras.
Viola Eddy, who lives in the District’s Benning Heights neighborhood, complained to The Times about a “speed trap” on Ridge Road SE. Mrs. Eddy, 72, said the officer’s car was parked on top of the curb, concealed in front of a bridge underpass.
“That is exactly the type of enforcement I’m talking about,” said Sgt. Bell. “It’s like a sting.” He said the cameras could not have anything to do with traffic safety based on the enforcement policy.
Detective Hawkins agreed the city should do as much in alerting residents to the speed limits as they are in dishing out the tickets. He then raised questions about the money being collected by the city and the private company that operates the cameras.
One high-ranking D.C. police officer said cases where there are long stretches of road without a limit posted hurt the program. “You have to know the speed limit is 25 mph unless posted, but on some roads the flow is much faster and you have to assume the limit is higher,” said the officer. But he added: “It’s not MPD’s fault. The city has to do better in putting up more signs.