- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

D.C. police are playing a guessing game when reviewing images from their photo-radar camera program and sending tickets to drivers whose license plates are not clearly identifiable.
One Southwest resident received a $50 ticket in September issued to a vehicle that, according to the ticket, had her plate number. But the photograph included with the citation shows a white truck instead of her blue sedan.
"The first thing is, I don't own a pickup truck," said Angela Brock-Smith, 36. "The second is, my car has been broken down since July 11 of last year."
The license plate number on Miss Smith's 1996 Chevrolet Lumina is AR8049. The photograph of the truck shown on the ticket has a similar tag, with "AR" and "049" visible. The first digit is partially obscured by a rigger ball on the truck's bumper.
With the photo-radar technology, a vehicle enters a pinpoint radar beam, and if it is going above the speed limit, it sets off a camera that snaps a photo of the rear of the vehicle. Affiliated Computer Services, which operates the radar cameras and processes the tickets for the District, then reviews the photo with D.C. police officers present and obtains information about the vehicle from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The citation is sent to the owner of the vehicle.
The ticket issued to Miss Smith said she was going 45 mph in a 30-mph zone in the 2900 block of Southern Avenue on Sept. 5.
After receiving the ticket, Miss Smith was told by an employee at the Automated Traffic Enforcement Office on Sept. 26 that she should request a hearing by mail with the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication (BTA).
"I sent them a letter explaining the error and waited to receive a hearing date or a notice," Miss Smith said.
Kevin P. Morison, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said the automated traffic office received Miss Smith's letter Oct. 3 and sent it to traffic adjudication; the ticket was suspended for 90 days while the bureau evaluated her case.
"Our records do not indicate that BTA took any action within the 90 days," Mr. Morison said in an e-mail last week, responding to questions about Miss Smith's case.
Miss Smith received a late notice on Jan. 3. She went to the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication in Northeast on Jan. 11 and was told to call the Automated Traffic Office.
Before she called that office, Miss Smith received another late notice on Jan. 19 which said that a hold had been placed on her registration and the ticket had doubled to $100.
"I called automated traffic on January 22, and they told me at that time to disregard the notice," Miss Smith said. "I thought they took care of it."
Traffic adjudication has suspended the ticket another 30 days because automated traffic sent another mail adjudication request, Mr. Morison said.
Mr. Morison acknowledged that the ticket should have been thrown out during the review process.
"It is clear from looking at the photo that this ticket should not have been issued in the first place, and certainly not to Miss Brock-Smith," Mr. Morison said.
The rules on identifying license plates, he said, are very clear: "If the tag number on the vehicle is not crystal clear … no ticket is supposed to be issued."
D.C. police have reiterated to their data and entry technicians and ticket reviewers to follow those rules, Mr. Morison said.
He said the problem with Miss Smith's case stems from a change in procedures between D.C. police and Traffic Adjudication.
Initially, tickets issued incorrectly could be voided when there were obvious errors by the Automated Traffic office with approval from the D.C. police.
The procedure changed about two months ago, and now the only way a ticket can be voided is if the office of police Chief Charles H. Ramsey sends a letter requesting it. Mr. Morison said a letter will be sent to BTA from Chief Ramsey's office on Miss Smith's behalf.
But traffic adjudication said it still has the last word. The bureau can deny the chief's request if it is not satisfied with the evidence he presents.
"Bureau of Traffic Adjudication now insists that only it can rule on all photo-radar and red-light camera tickets," Mr. Morison said.


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