Wendell Cunningham worried about cars hitting children or elderly residents in his Southeast Washington neighborhood, so the D.C. police officer decided to hit the streets with a radar gun -- on his own time.
He ticketed away for nearly two years, and then one morning, his off-duty work led him straight back to the office -- in pursuit of a top commander.
That was April 19. Cunningham was writing traffic tickets along a busy stretch of Branch Avenue SE near his home in Hillcrest about 6:30 a.m. when he spotted a dark-blue car hurtling down the street. His radar gun showed it doing 46 mph in a 25-mph zone.
So he stepped into traffic and motioned for the driver to pull over. Instead of stopping, the Ford Crown Victoria swung into the other lane and passed; emergency lights began to flash from the car's grill, and a siren sounded.
Through the car's tinted windows, Cunningham recognized Assistant Chief Willie Dandridge, a department veteran who supervises patrol operations east of the Anacostia River.
Cunningham followed Dandridge to the nearby office, where Dandridge refused to turn over his identification. Cunningham reported the incident to internal affairs.
Four months later, the incident in the 2400 block of Branch Avenue SE has resulted in a 15-page internal report.
Internal affairs officials recommended that Dandridge be cited for conduct unbecoming an officer because he did not stop or turn over his identification. "Assistant Chief Dandridge conducted himself in a manner that would not be tolerated by any other member of this agency or any citizen driving by a radar checkpoint," the internal affairs report concluded.
Dandridge, 42, said in an interview that he regretted not stopping but felt it wasn't safe to do so. There was not enough room on Branch Avenue, and two cars were already on the side of the road, he said.
On the other hand, he said: "In hindsight, I know I should have stopped. . . . I am responsible for my actions."
He is the second top commander in recent months to be cited for conduct during a traffic incident. The D.C. Office of Police Complaints, an independent city agency, found last month that Assistant Chief Brian Jordan harassed a motorist and abused his authority in 2003, when he was accused of giving the motorist a traffic citation after a brief altercation. Jordan, who supervises patrol operations in the 1st and 5th districts, has denied any wrongdoing.
A decision about discipline for Jordan has not been made. What punishment Dandridge could face has not been revealed.
Cunningham, 40, who works for the department's emergency response team, last month received a letter of prejudice in the case, a mild form of official rebuke, for not completing the proper paperwork for his radar gun.
He was also cited for not having the explicit permission of supervisors to work off duty at that spot, a requirement under department guidelines, the internal affairs report states.
Cunningham disputes the report's findings, saying that the proper radar forms were not available and that commanders knew what he was doing. He had ticketed Dandridge in that same spot a year earlier, records show. The officer has filed a grievance, saying he is being punished for helping his community.
Some neighbors said Cunningham has made a difference in the area.
"I think we need more officers like him," said Jeanus Parks, 76. "He has made his presence felt here. For an officer to extend himself like that, it's commendable."
Union leaders said Cunningham's letter of prejudice would stop similar off-duty work.
Officers "are afraid to come out and take that extra step," said Sgt. Gregory I. Greene, chairman of the D.C. police labor committee of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1.
During a recent afternoon rush hour, Cunningham returned to Branch Avenue to catch speeders on his own time. He clocked one driver going 45 mph and another going 47 mph in a 25-mph zone. Then he received a page to call a commander. The supervisor told Cunningham to stop, because someone had complained that he was slowing traffic.
After hanging up his cellular phone, Cunningham cracked a smile and looked at Branch Avenue, where a single car was traveling 42 mph, according to the radar gun.
"I guess they don't want me giving another ticket to an assistant chief at rush hour," he said.