Are traffic cameras a safety measure or money grab? | Federal Way Forum

Editor's Note: The Federal Way Forum is a new monthly feature, presenting different views on a particular issue. Please fill out the community survey following the point and counterpoint views regarding the city's traffic cameras. All surveys will be relayed to city of Federal Way leaders for their consideration as they weigh in on the issue.

Point | Benefits of Federal Way’s traffic photo enforcement

The primary mission of traffic enforcement is to reduce the frequency of traffic collisions and protect our citizens from harm.

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement and educational authorities, traffic accidents still remain a significant threat to our citizens and traffic-related matters pose the greatest harm to our citizens. Speed, alcohol, distracted driving, running red lights and lack of proper restraint use continues to confound law enforcement efforts to keep motorists and pedestrians safe and secure.

dThe Traffic Safety Photo Enforcement Program enables the Federal Way Police Department to address serious traffic safety issues at select locations with high volumes of traffic and high violation rates. We know that traffic enforcement saves lives.

Traffic safety cameras play an important role in the department’s overall traffic safety plan. High-visibility traffic enforcement by police officers using the Traffic Safety Photo Enforcement technology allows for opportunities to raise public awareness about traffic safety and keep our citizens safe.

The decision to use traffic safety cameras within our community was well thought out and began with a pilot project in 2008. The program is limited to high volume, high violation locations and is currently in place at only three of the city’s 78 signaled intersections and three of the city’s 23 school zones. The six camera installations represent 6 percent of the 101 possible locations.

The photo enforcement program enables the city to provide ongoing, consistent enforcement in these chronic, high-violation locations, increasing safety for motorists and pedestrians, including school children using the three school zones.

It would be prohibitively expensive to provide this level of enforcement at these locations with police officers, and enforcement at major intersections, which can sometimes pose special difficulties or hazards to police officers.

Traffic safety cameras are far more efficient than a police officer for high-volume locations – the intersection cameras operate 24 hours a day, while school zone cameras operate continuously during school zone operation ­­­­­— and are objective and equitable to all citizens.

Because of its efficiency, the perception exists that it is all about generating revenue. As a police chief, I see the traffic safety cameras play an important role in our overall effort of making our streets safer for our citizens. We have intentionally focused the program in a limited way, addressing these six locations where the volume of violations and traffic suggest additional emphasis is warranted.

In addition to safety and enforcement, traffic congestion is one of the top concerns for Federal Way residents. Vehicles blocking intersections have historically been one of the most frequent complaints to the city and the police department. Intersection traffic safety cameras have practically eliminated complaints about vehicles blocking intersections at the busiest congested locations, improving traffic flow and safety.

The Traffic Safety Photo Enforcement Program has proven to substantially reduce red light running and school zone speed violations, indicating community-wide changes in driver behavior. In addition to reducing red light violations, cameras have been shown to reduce intersections crashes.

The Federal Way Police Department’s continued efforts will be to reduce driving-related deaths, injuries and property damage by taking advantage of all opportunities to raise public awareness through public service announcements, press releases, high-visibility enforcement and public information campaigns.

Andy J. Hwang is chief of the Federal Way Police Department.


Counterpoint | Flaws with traffic cameras: right to fair hearing

I will likely raise the ire of people on both sides of the photo enforcement issue. But maybe a different perspective should be considered.

Our students deserve to be safe while walking to and from school. A reduced speed limit promotes safety in school zones. Are photo enforcement systems the best way to cite speeders or should that be a function of the Federal Way police officers with direct knowledge of who was driving the vehicle?


Three years ago, I was cited for speeding on 320th Street in front of Twin Lakes Elementary school. Was I the driver? No. I was cited because I was the registered owner of the vehicle.  The problem with the presumption that the owner is the driver is that it eliminates the presumption of innocence and shifts the burden of proof.

But the problems with the photo enforcement system run much deeper. The city of Federal Way contracts with American Traffic Solutions, a company located in Scottsdale, Arizona, to provide the cameras and do much of the administrative work.

On Feb. 14, 2011, I sent in a hearing request form, which was due on Feb. 22, 2011. American Traffic Solutions received my certified mail on Feb. 17, 2011 at 8:25 a.m. What did they do?  They ignored my request for a hearing, sent a notice of delinquent infraction, claimed I forfeited my right to a court hearing and demanded late fees.

After much time and money, I got a court hearing and my citation was dismissed.

American Traffic Solutions has been the defendant in numerous lawsuits and has agreed to many legal settlements. Even worse, they have been exposed for fraud and manipulation.

An example is “W Howard” who posted comments online supporting enforcement camera technology in the Seattle area. Who is “W Howard”? He was actually Bill Kroske, vice president of business development at American Traffic Solutions.

The cameras have taken pictures on snow days, during parent-teacher conferences, during vacation days, etc. Just a couple weeks ago, the yellow lights were flashing on Hoyt Road Southwest, even though the school year had ended.

I have taken many individuals to task over the photo enforcement systems, including the former city attorney. She should have been proactive improving the system and protecting citizens who were improperly cited and denied hearings.

In my opinion, to do otherwise was a violation of the rules of professional conduct (for example, 3.1 – Meritorious Claims and Contentions).

One person deserves special recognition. Former Police Chief Brian Wilson met with me twice.  At our second meeting, I presented a list of seven recommendations. I believe he implemented all of them over time. He stood out in my dealings with the city as someone who really cares about doing what’s right, fair and just.

I support photo enforcement of the speed limits in school zones. We need to protect our students and the extra revenue from those driving illegally benefits our city. Let’s just make sure the equipment works properly and the accused have the right to a fair hearing.

Bruce Biermann has lived in Federal Way for nine years and serves on many corporate and non-profit boards.

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