Cops fighting speed camera tickets hurts county's image, officials say
Examiner Staff Writer
July 16, 2009
The four Montgomery County police officers who won't have to pay their speed camera tickets are undermining the public's opinion of the police department and the speed camera program, elected officials said.
"This is a small group of officers who are refusing to pay when it appears they should have to," said Council President Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville. "The public is resentful when public employees are treated different than private citizens, unless there is a valid reason for the action."
The Examiner reported Wednesday that a Montgomery County judged tossed tickets of four on-duty police officers who were caught by speed cameras. Two of them were driving twice the speed limit, driving 50 and 51 mph in 25 mph residential zones.
Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, said the officers may have had legitimate concerns about their tickets. But he said that news accounts of officers fighting speed camera tickets, even if it's over police department procedure, doesn't help the county's efforts to promote speed cameras as a fair and effective public safety tool.
"The public doesn't delve much into the details and it just sounds bad," he said.
Elrich said the county and police union need to create a mutually agreeable policy that will clearly define when police officers are exempted from paying speed camera tickets.
"We should be able to figure this out, it's not rocket science," Elrich said.
Currently, the county's Fraternal Order of Police union advises its members not to pay tickets stemming from speed cameras. Past President Walter Bader said the union's opposition is based on the department's "haphazard" procedure for assigning officers tickets, and not a belief that officers should never have to pay speeding tickets.
"The only thing we have been advocating is a process to sort these cases out," he said.
The officers' attorney said speeding was frequently a part of the officers' jobs and it was unreasonable for them to be asked to remember why they were going over the speed limit weeks or months after they had been photographed by a speed camera.
The judge said the county's failure to have a written policy regarding speed camera tickets violated the officers' right to due process.
But the state's attorney's office, the police department and the county executive's office said the county already has a valid process for assigning speed camera tickets to its officers.
"Police department policy is clear: If officers don't have a good reason to be speeding they have to pay tickets, same as everyone else," said County Executive Ike Leggett's spokesman, Patrick Lacefield.
The county's elected officials have been strong supporters of speed cameras, and Leggett recently doubled the number of fixed cameras from 30 to 60 in the county.
Lacefield added that he doesn't think the police union's complaints will affect the public's perception of the police department or of the speed camera program.