Investigation: Local cops caught by speed cameras evade tickets
WASHINGTON (ABC7) —
On duty, but off limits
Wouldn't it be nice if your speed camera tickets were taken care of? For most, that's just a fantasy. But, not if you're a Montgomery County Police officer.
A 7 ON YOUR SIDE I-Team investigation discovered on-duty cops are getting their speed camera fines dismissed or reduced.
Louis Wilen, like most drivers, hates getting speed camera tickets.
"I don't entirely trust the speed camera system," stated Wilen, whose skepticism was only furthered at a recent traffic court hearing he attended in Montgomery County.
As Wilen waited in court to fight his ticket, he watched a man get the violations of four police officers quickly dismissed. The officers were not in court. At the time of the ticket, the man admitted they were not on a call. 7 ON YOUR SIDE obtained that day's court audio. Here's what happened.
"We enter a plea of not-guilty," said the man. "We don't have an argument other than they were working, on duty, in police cruisers."
The judge asked, "Montgomery County, any response?"
"No," the county representative replied.
The judge then made his ruling, "The court has marked the file dismissed."
All four hearings took a total of one minute and 48 seconds.
"It seemed very rigged," explained Wilen. "It was very obvious the system was being circumvented. How many other times is this happening?"
The I-Team wondered the same thing. We dug in and requested every speed camera case in Montgomery County since January 2013. We checked thousands of names and found 138 police officers, who got 151 tickets.
Every one of those tickets was either dismissed or reduced. In all, $4,720 in fines were waived, what remained was paid by the officers.
"More officers pay their tickets than go to court," explained Captain Thomas Didone, who runs Montgomery County's Traffic Division.
When officers get caught speeding, the department issues the ticket. What happens after that, he says, is out of his control.
"Fair or not, that is our system of judgment," added Didone.
"I've never heard of this before. I think it sends a bad message," responded Frederick County, Maryland, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins.
Jenkins says in his county, when officers get speeding tickets, he expects them to be paid in full. The same holds true for other neighboring departments we contacted, including DC, Princes Georges County and Charles County.
Montgomery County officers are the only ones that regularly fight tickets.
"We are out there to set the example," said Jenkins. "We are not above the law. Quite honestly, how can we enforce the law when we don't obey the law?"
"I think I'm being treated unfairly," said Wilen, who did not beat his ticket or have the fine reduced. "It makes me not want to trust the system."
The man in court defending the officers was, Jim Shalleck - the attorney for the county police union. He'll represent any officer who gets a ticket - while admitting the situation could anger some people.
"These officers put their lives on the line every day. They are in the car eight, ten hours a day," explained Shalleck. "The police officers feel very strongly they shouldn't be ticketed when they are working to protect the citizens."
Captain Didone, disagrees with that argument. "As an agency, we want to hold our officers accountable. But we also recognize they can have their day in court."
Didone says the issue is not with the Police Department, but rather with the judges who rule of behalf of the officers. The I-Team reached out to the 12 judges in Montgomery County who hear speed camera cases. But none of them were willing to defend their rulings.