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Federal Way traffic cameras: How to fight photo tickets

The intersection of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South features photo enforcement cameras for red light violations. - Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror
The intersection of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South features photo enforcement cameras for red light violations.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

What's the best way to avoid paying a ticket from a Federal Way traffic camera?

Fight it.

The automated enforcement system is set up for people to pay, not to argue — and citizens can use that flaw to their advantage.

"When you pay, you're doing exactly what they want you to do," said Herman Brewer, a Federal Way traffic attorney. "Everybody has their right to a fair hearing. Make them do their work."

Federal Way's first four red light photo cameras went active in 2008. Today, there are 14 cameras at 11 locations. Eight cameras capture red light violations, and six cameras target school zone speeders.

A photo ticket can cost between $124 to $250, depending on the violation. In the first six months of 2012, Federal Way generated about $1.2 million in net revenue from the controversial cameras.

How to beat a ticket

For drivers who receive a photo ticket, Brewer advises to request a court hearing.

"The last thing they want is for you to show up and request a continuance," Brewer said.

Most residents are intimidated by the system and just want the ticket to go away, Brewer said.

Each ticket is reviewed by Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and Federal Way police before being sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

The city actually loses money when a ticket goes to court. The court must go through the standard process of producing a docket and arranging for a judge to hear the case. With the additional cost and labor, dismissal of the ticket becomes a more practical option.

At the very least, any driver who fights a ticket has a chance of saving money by getting the fine reduced through mitigation.

"If everybody requested a hearing and continuance, the city would lose money," Brewer said.

Brewer has been practicing law for about 10 years, and while most of his business is local, his services are sought statewide. At one time, Brewer was frowned upon for getting traffic tickets dismissed.

"People saw it as not in the public's interest," he said, noting that once the photo tickets started rolling in, "all of a sudden my stock has risen."

Brewer's fee to clients is less than the cost of the ticket. He cannot guarantee that every case will result in a dismissal.

But as long as a machine instead of a human is capturing the violations, there will always room for a legal argument.

One primary strategy is to focus on defects and technicalities. Sometimes people pay tickets that would have been dismissed in court.

Brewer has discredited cameras based on the last time they were checked and calibrated. Other cases were dismissed because legal language wasn't properly displayed on the ticket.

Federal Way recently corrected the cameras near Panther Lake Elementary School on 1st Avenue South. The cameras, which capture photos of the vehicles committing the infraction, had failed to include the flashing warning lights in the photo tickets. This was another legal technicality that dismissed several tickets, Brewer said.

Brewer believes photo enforcement is here to stay. The cameras save time and money, and they free up Federal Way police officers to focus on other law enforcement priorities.

And what happened when Brewer was once ticketed by a camera at South 348th Street in Federal Way?

"I fought it," he said, "and I won."

Dollars and sense

Federal Way pays $4,750 per month per camera to ATS to cover processing. That total cost to the city, per month, is about $53,000.

In 2011, the cameras generated $945,606 in net revenue. So far in 2012, the city reports a net revenue of nearly $1.2 million through June — about $552,000 more than the same year-to-date total from the previous year. One factor for the increase in citations is the school zone cameras.

Revenue from the cameras goes into the city's traffic safety fund.

In July 2010, the city council extended Federal Way’s contract with American Traffic Solutions for enforcement cameras through 2013.

In May 2011, a glitch at ATS resulted in the dismissal of 137 infractions from Federal Way. The glitch involved faulty notification of the alleged violations.

Learn more

To learn more about the Law Office of Herman C. Brewer IV, visit http://hermaniv.org.

Pictured below is a camera at the intersection of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South in Federal Way:


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