Posted: 7:56 p.m. Monday, March 31, 2014

McDonough police no longer able to use radar, laser guns to catch speeders after Ch. 2 investigation

By Erica Byfield

MCDONOUGH, Ga. —

As a result of a Channel 2 Action News investigation, a metro police department can no longer use radar or laser guns to catch speeders through the end of the year.
 
Department of Public Safety Col. Mark McDonough announced the findings of his agency's investigation.
 
"As you can see by the action we took, we take it very seriously," he said.
 
McDonough added the suspension is effective immediately. 
 
"They were not in compliance with that and the reason I took this action," McDonough said. "When you take a close look at this, I think this is an issue of assumption, where a list was in the process of being provided and it never did."
 
A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered that McDonough police wrongly ticketed thousands of people within the last decade.
 
An officer who used to work for the McDonough Police Department tipped off Channel 2's Erica Byfield.
 
"I think it's unethical, I think it's basically unlawful. The police department is breaking the very laws they are supposed to be protecting," said the whistle-blower, who asked not to be identified.
 
Based on information he provided, Byfield determined McDonough police had given out bad tickets since 2002.
 
In January, in the wake of her questions, Police Chief Preston Dorsey admitted what his officers did was wrong.
 
In the days that followed, McDonough police and Department of Public Safety officials lauded investigations.
  
In Georgia, any road patrolled by radar or laser must be tested by the state Department of Transportation, commonly known as GDOT, and ultimately approved by the state Department of Public Safety, or DPS.
 
Byfield pulled McDonough PD's paperwork.
 
She found the city has had the same DPS permit on file since 1999 for 49 streets.
 
The problem was that officers gave out tickets using speed detection devices on 16 additional streets.
 
Byfield pressed the city's police chief to explain why.
 
She asked, "Why did you use radar on streets that weren't approved?"
 
"That I don't have the answer for, but I hope to find that answer soon," Dorsey said.
 
To get a glimpse of how many people McDonough police wrongfully cited, Byfield went through ticket records citywide for the last five years.
 
Industrial Boulevard is not approved for radar or laser. Despite that, Byfield discovered McDonough officers issued 1,376 citations on that street and the city made at least $166,200 from fines associated with the tickets.
 
Byfield and a producer called 100 people who received the tickets at the center of our investigation. None knew there are rules to ticketing and none knew there are questions surrounding the tickets McDonough police gave them.
 
"If you're not allowed to use a radar gun on a street, you shouldn't use it," said Scotty Williams. A McDonough officer clocked Williams for going 49 in a 35 mph zone on Industrial Boulevard in 2009.
 
McDonough's police chief told Byfield the extra enforcement was a mistake.
 
"We didn't intentionally run radar on those streets," Dorsey said.
 
Channel 2 Action News put in a series of open-records requests while investigating this story.
 
In the process, Byfield learned that GDOT has a 2002 list of streets on file for McDonough police that differs from the streets DPS permitted.
 
Byfield found an email from March 2013 directed at the police department's leaders.
 
In it, an officer alerts them to the problem.
 
Nine months later, around the same time Byfield started asking questions, Dorsey called for an internal investigation.
 
"Why did you guys wait so long to start your own investigation?" Byfield asked.
 
"We were not clear that we were violating the radar street permit until we met with the state," Dorsey said.
 
Even so, in the same conversation Dorsey admitted he instructed his officers to stop using radar and laser on those streets right after he got the email.
 
He also confirmed his department has yet to notify any of the drivers who received bad tickets.
 
The drivers we tracked down want something.
 
"Yeah, I would like to get my money back," said Kenneth Daniel.
 
Dorsey did not want to go that far, but did make a promise. "The city will do the right thing," he said. He would not explain what that may be.
 
"I think they need to follow the law like we do. Point blank. Period," said Williams.

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