Letters to the Editor

Camera enforcement technology makes for safer school zones | Police Chief Brian Wilson

By Brian Wilson, Chief of Police, City of Federal Way

Several of the public schools in the City of Federal Way face significant speeding problems during school zone hours.

Beginning in December 2009, the city selected three of the city’s 23 schools to receive traffic safety school zone cameras. The goal is to use the technology of traffic safety cameras to increase the safety of children at these high-volume, high-violation school zones.

The city’s philosophy and practice is to take prompt action on behalf of citizens if a problem is identified with the system. In pursuit of this goal, we have implemented several upgrades to both the equipment and our procedures over the past two years.

Unfortunately, the corrections to the systems have been inaccurately portrayed in letters to the editor and in this newspaper.

At each of the three traffic safety school zones, the cameras are hard-wired to the school zone flashers. The cameras cannot operate without the flashers being on and the flashers won’t work without the cameras being operational. Every violation event is reviewed and approved by a Federal Way police officer, eliminating questionable violations and providing local law enforcement judgment and values to the process.

The objection recently raised by some drivers, including Matthew Jarvis, is that they didn’t see the yellow flashing signal when their speed violation occurred. In assessing a possible violation, the reviewing officer looks at the time of the citation, vehicle speed, and whether the video shows children and/or other slower-moving traffic present.

However, the cameras were not originally positioned to capture both the yellow flashing light and the car in the same image. When raised in court, some judges have dismissed these citations, providing the benefit of the doubt to the citizen.

After hearing from citizens, we agreed that including the yellow flashing lights in the video would further enhance public confidence in the system, particularly for those drivers who don’t recall seeing the flashing school zone signal. Over the past year, all three school zone traffic safety camera installations were enhanced to have the flashing lights visible on the cameras.

The photo enforcement cameras and system are working properly. The technology is precise and unbiased in its ability to identify red light violations and speeding vehicles through school zones. Like any technology, though, it can be improved over time.

The Federal Way Police Department has been prompt to address citizen complaints concerning the photo enforcement program. In the event malfunctions were identified, the system was shut down and enforcement was suspended until repairs were made.

System review, upgrades and improvements (signs and additional warning lights) have been ongoing since the inception of the program to reduce violations, enhance citizen compliance with traffic control devices and address public confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the system. Upgrades to the system are described in a report at www.cityoffederalway.com/SZCameraUpgrades (or available by contacting my office at (253) 835-6701 or brian.wilson@cityoffederalway.com).

In addition, our most recent biannual review of traffic safety highlighted the Panther Lake school zone as continuing to suffer from an excessive number of school zone speeding violations. During the first half of 2012, 61 percent of the 9,853 school zone camera citations occurred in the Panther Lake Elementary school zone. Remember, the cameras are hard-wired to the flashers, and citations are reviewed by Federal Way police officers.

The report highlighted the need for additional efforts to reduce the safety risk for the hundreds of children walking and riding bikes to Panther Lake. In an effort to draw drivers’ attention to the school zone and reduce the speeding problem, the city installed six new flashing beacons and additional school zone signage prior to this current school year.

The city issued a press release about this effort three weeks ago. Unfortunately, The Mirror did not publish that information but it can be read online at www.cityoffederalway.com/pantherspeeding. The goal of the recent Panther Lake work is to increase the visibility of the school zone, and change drivers’ behavior — to get them to slow down, for kids’ sake.


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