The D.C. Council will hold a hearing this month on a blistering report by the city’s inspector general that suggests the District’s lucrative system of automated traffic enforcement is more focused on making money than improving safety and that it often sends tickets to the wrong drivers.
The report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General questioned the locations of some speed and red-light cameras, said “arbitrary” decisions by D.C. police often sent speeding tickets to people who did not deserve them, and described enforcement as inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary. It also said some people received citations for vehicles they’ve never owned.
The hearing to examine the report was called by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who said she is concerned about some of the findings and doubtful that it is the inspector general’s role to raise others.
“I’m happy that it draws attention to these issues,” said Cheh, who heads the council’s transportation committee. “But I do not favor that the inspector general is weighing in on policy issues. Those are for the [D.C. police] and the city council to decide.”
For example, she said, the report questions the placement of speed cameras in some neighborhoods where it says most drivers comply with the speed limit.
“We have a lot of people clamoring for speed cameras on streets where their children play,” Cheh said. “They don’t want 15 percent of the people speeding.”
She said she wanted more red-light cameras deployed. “I wish there were a red-light camera on the corner of every intersection in the District of Columbia.”
Issuing traffic citations is a $179 million-a-year business in the city, and according to the 115-page audit, three city agencies — D.C. police, the Department of Public Works and the District Department of Transportation — issued nearly 2.5 million parking and traffic tickets in fiscal 2013.
The report says the District issued 84,300 red-light camera tickets in fiscal 2013 and 581,975 speed-camera tickets for a total of $88,832,976 in revenue. But many of those citations were issued in error, according to the audit.
“The reality is that the District often issues speeding tickets without conclusive identification of the violating vehicle,” the inspector general’s report says.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier called the report “flawed” and “sensationalist” and said there is widespread support for using automated speed cameras and red-light cameras.
Cheh said she was troubled by the report’s contention that automated camera tickets were being issued to some drivers who don’t deserve them.
The report says that many of the city’s cameras are positioned on multilane streets, and when they snap a photo capturing more than one car, police department analysts have to decide who deserves the ticket. The police department’s manual uses multiple photos and an illustration to guide those decisions, but the inspector general says reviewers often were inconsistent and arbitrary in determining who received tickets.
“We don’t want tickets to be given out when there is a doubt,” Cheh said. “We have to be fair, and the rules have to be clear.”
Cheh said she has complained to DDOT about conflicting signs about parking regulations — when they don’t agree about when parking is permitted and when it is not. The agency has traffic-control officers who write tickets.
“If there are two signs, you are supposed to follow the most restrictive sign,” Cheh said she was told. “Did you know that? I didn’t.”
The council hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sept. 24 in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.