Were D.C. police illegally operating a speed camera in Prince George's County?

Looking westbound into D.C., the intersection is in Washington, but the speed camera is approximately 20 feet into Maryland. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Were D.C. police illegally operating a speed camera in Prince George’s County?

On Tuesday afternoon, while ABC 7 News was on site to investigate the camera in question and its location - at the intersection of Eastern Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Highway - a District Department Of Transportation crew disconnected it. A mobile traffic camera on the D.C. side of the intersection is going into operation while the disputed one in Maryland is out of service and under review.

D.C. officials maintain having the camera on the Maryland side of the border isn’t illegal and they defended citations issued to motorists as legitimate, saying the violations still occurred regardless of the vantage point where the camera was recording them.

But John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic disagrees, contending that the city has "been ripping motorists off and have been violating their own traffic rules."

He said surveyor maps show that the camera actually sits 20 to 40 feet inside Maryland.

"The traffic signal is in the District of Columbia. The sidewalk is in the District of Columbia. The street in question is in the District of Columbia, but the camera itself is in the state of Maryland," Townsend said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration told ABC 7 News that - if indeed - the camera is on the Maryland side, the District should have requested a permit but never did.

A number of attorneys contacted by ABC 7 news partner WTOP radio, which first initiated an investigation into the camera, cited D.C. statute 50- 2209.11 - which they said requires automated cameras to be located within the district.The lawyers said having the camera in Maryland would be illegal.

D.C. Assistant Police Chief Lamar Greene offered a lengthy written explanation to ABC 7 News on Tuesday evening regarding the controversial camera. It reads:

"The Metropolitan Police Department received the original inquiry on this matter in June. We verified that the camera was in fact capturing violations that occurred in the District of Columbia within the law. However, this camera is one of the older camera configurations, mounted on two poles, that was installed in 1999.

Chief Lanier directed me to replace this older speed unit with a new portable unit several months ago, upon receiving this inquiry. Today, we have upgraded our speed camera configurations to a single portable unit system. Speed is still an issue at this location and we will continue enforcement there as we have in the past. The red light camera remains functional and continues to capture violations in the District of Columbia from its current location.

MPD stands by the fact that we are well within our legal rights of traffic enforcement at this location and only issued citations that occurred within the District of Columbia. As technology advances we will update our red light camera at the location as well.

We have been in contact with Maryland State Highway Administration in an attempt to locate historic documents in reference to this site. We will continue to work with them on this matter."