Feb 15, 2023 - News

Charlotte police have been using illegally certified speeding radars since 2008

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have been using speeding radars that were not legally certified.

  • The city recently discovered the issue, but staff suspects illegal testing of the devices started in 2008 after state requirements for testing equipment were “incorrectly interpreted.”
  • As a result, the city has begun an internal investigation into what went wrong, and whether anyone will face disciplinary action.

What’s happening: During the most recent annual testing of radar and LiDAR devices, which are used to measure a car’s speed, a technician raised questions about the procedures to the city’s Innovation and Technology Department. The department discovered that some electronic speed-measuring devices were not being tested by certified technicians, as is required under state law, Reenie Askew, the city’s chief technology officer, told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

  • Supervisors in the Public Safety Communications Division, who do have the required certifications, signed off on the testing of the devices. But under state law, they shouldn’t have done so since the technicians weren’t certified.

Why it matters: For motorists, it’s unclear how many speeding citations may have been impacted. The devices are frequently used in court to corroborate evidence.

“We must hold ourselves accountable to the fact that we did not adhere to the state requirements,” Askew said.

On Feb. 9, CMPD officers were told to stop using the devices. On Feb. 14, the city informed the district attorney of its violations.

Also on Feb. 14, prosecutors in district attorney Spencer Merriweather’s office began to screen for cases that relied upon equipment-based corroboration. The DA’s office says it is “still in the midst of the fact-finding process to determine the extent of this issue.” The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and the Matthews Police Department were also affected “to some extent,” a spokesperson with the DA’s office told Axios.

  • The city’s internal investigation may take some time since people formerly involved in the work have retired or left the city, Askew cautioned.
  • Out of 230 units, 170 are being retested between now and March 1.

What they’re saying: “We do not believe that radars and LiDARs were mis-calibrated as the technicians were trained to do this properly and the supervisors who sign the forums have full confidence that testing and calibration has been done accurately,” Askew said.

“In no way did this compromise our ability to enforce speed and traffic laws,” CMPD chief Johnny Jennings said in a statement.

Of note: Radar and LiDAR units are not required to make a stop for speeding offense, sergeant Adam Jones said. Officers can pull drivers over based on independent estimations.

  • “Officers are required to form an opinion on speed prior to RADAR or LiDAR use,” chief Jennings said. “This equipment is used to corroborate the officers’ independent opinions about the speed.”

What’s next: The city is requiring all technicians to obtain the certification and is modifying the city’s job description so future hires are certified within the first 12 months in the role.

  • “If you have been charged with a speeding citation in Mecklenburg County, you or your attorney should appear in court on your court date to discuss available options. You should not pay for your speeding citation online to resolve the citation,” Merriweather’s office said in a statement.
  • “We will be able to proceed on many of these cases in the absence of corroborative equipment-based evidence, but in other instances, cases may ultimately be dismissed,” his office added.
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