Thursday, November 29, 2001

Some D.C. police officers say they are slowing their response to emergencies because photo-radar cameras are ticketing them for speeding on Code One calls, and they are being forced to pay the fines.
At least three D.C. police officers told The Washington Times they were caught by the cameras and ticketed while on official police business. They said they and other officers have been forced to pay the fines, and are now on edge about speeding to a crime scene and running red lights in emergencies. Like area motorists, they have little chance of getting a reprieve from the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication without evidence to present in their defense.
“Officers are getting crazy tickets, in their cars on duty from the speed and red-light cameras,” said Sgt. Gerald G. Neill Jr., chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department’s union labor committee. “A lot of them have actually had to pay the fines,” he said.
Some officers have paid so many tickets that they are no longer speeding or running red lights to get to their dispatched calls even in emergency situations, Sgt. Neill said.
“The threat of the flash is in their heads, but more so the $100 to $200 fines,” Sgt. Neill said.
One detective, with 12 years on the force and currently working in the Fifth District, said he was flashed by the cameras once for speeding and once for running a red light all on dispatched calls. Two other officers said they also have received tickets while on emergency calls.
“I got two speeding tickets and one red-light ticket,” said a detective who did not wish to be named. But he said he didn’t remember to fill out a 775 form a log sheet used to keep track of officers using police vehicles. Without the form to back up his statement in traffic adjudication, he was forced to pay the fines.
D.C. police Lt. Patrick Burke, director of traffic safety, said the 775 form cannot be used as evidence to fight the tickets. He said the form is used only to track officers driving cars registered to the D.C. police so the citation can be issued to the right person.
“I empathize with the officers because I, too, have run lights and had to speed on emergency calls,” Lt. Burke said.
He said the codes are in place to keep officers from breaking traffic laws. The only time an officer is allowed to run a red light or to speed is on Code One emergencies, which include robberies in progress, reports of gunfire, or any violent crimes committed on the street or in a residence, Lt. Burke said.
He added that undercover officers, who have to run red lights or have sped to keep up with a suspect, also are exempted from the citations.
“Sometimes you get an emergency call of a person in trouble and you fly to the scene. You don’t have time to worry about filling out that form,” the detective said.
But officers told The Times they are being fined for speeding on Code One calls.
Sgt. Neill said he had spoken with Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer about how the situation.
“Chief Gainer said the department would be able to keep track of the emergency call logs and find out whether or not officers driving the cars were on Code One calls when the tickets were issued,” Sgt. Neill said. “But then we found out that wasn’t the case.”
D.C. police spokesman Kevin P. Morison said officers should have no fear of getting speed or red-light camera tickets while on official business. He said tickets are not issued in cases where D.C. police aren’t sure who was driving the car at the time it was the caught by the cameras.
“We can tell from the pictures we see in color whether or not a car has the sirens on. If they are, those tickets are thrown out during the review process,” Mr. Morison said.
He said a “handful of tickets” has been given to officers erroneously.
He urged that officers who feel a ticket was issued to them in error to report it and not just pay the fine.
“If an officer pays the ticket without alerting us, he has to know that is an admission of guilt,” Mr. Morison said.
He said the enforcement applies to all city government agencies.
There have been no complaints thus far from the D.C. Fire Department and Emergency Medical Service personnel about getting tickets while on official business, said Lisa Bass, D.C. Fire and EMS spokeswoman.
That does not include other police agencies in the city such as the U.S. Park Police, FBI or any other federal police force.
The U.S. Park Police, FBI, and U.S. Capitol Police did not return calls from The Washington Times yesterday inquiring whether their officers are getting photo-radar and speed camera tickets.
Since the automated traffic program began Aug. 6, the District’s cameras have generated 75,575 tickets and more than $1.4 million, with 20,625 motorists paying the fines. An estimated $848,000 in fines went to the city’s general fund, and almost $600,000 went to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (ACS) the company that maintains and operates the devices.
Tickets are checked for errors by D.C. police officers and ACS employees before they are mailed, Mr. Morison said.

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