No fines for DC cops running red lights

WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- Investigative Reporter Russ Ptacek shows you DC police vehicles getting busted, sort of, by their own red light cameras. A WUSA9 open records investigation identified case-after-case of cruisers, without emergency flashing lights, where the police department gets officers who ran red lights off the hook.

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officials say the agency adheres to city policy allowing officers, in "an emergency," to proceed past red lights as long as it sounds a signal by "bell, siren, or exhaust whistle."

The red light videos were provided to WUSA9 without sound.

MPD acknowledges, a second, tighter policy issued by the police chief in 2004 saying it hasn't been changed, requiring drivers to "open both front windows" and to "stop before entering the intersection when facing a red signal," all "with emergency warning devices activated."

Through public records requests WUSA9 has identified 14 videos thrown out over the last two years.

Case in point: a police SUV in the left turn lane suddenly decides to go straight on New York Avenue – right through the red arrow. The SUV's emergency lights? Not on.That officer claimed to be on "valid police business," and the police departmentasked the DMV's Traffic Adjudication to void the ticket, and the fine – which they did.

They voided the other 13 too. Including some red light violations for passing and blocking the crosswalk.

For two months WUSA9 has asked for an interview with Chief Lanier about MPD policy and the red light camera video WUSA9 obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Because MPD wouldn't grant our interview, Russ Ptacek tried to ask the Chief questions on the street.

"I'm not going to stand here and argue with you," Lanier told Ptacek as he pressed for answers. "You're making a fool of yourself."

DC Council Member Tommy Wells heads up the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

"Does it bother you that the police department is asking that these tickets be thrown out?" Russ Ptacek asks Wells.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Wells responded while viewing the red light camera videos. "What would be good to know is what internal actions the Chief has taken. If they're not following the rules they've set for personnel, then I'd like to know what the Chief's thoughts are about that. There's an expectation of public safety, that it's not just trying to solve a crime or respond to an emergency, you don't want to create another emergency along the way. There's a reason why there's rules against this."

"The rule is they have to be following the rules," says Chief Lanier.

WUSA9 has identified five separate cases where officers were fined for running red lights.

MPD spokeswoman, Gwendolyn Crump, tells WUSA9 that the department is not aware of any cases in which Traffic Adjudication has not thrown out a ticket at the police department's request.

Council Member Wells says he plans to open an inquiry.

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