In Lake Forest Park these days, a traffic ticket is not only given upon sight of flashing bright lights and a blaring siren –but also the swift, silence of an official letter arriving days later.
March 1st meant the third activation of a school zone camera, on 40th Place N.E. near , which records speeding cars. Each was installed under Lake Forest Park’s new chapter in Ordinance 977, authorizing automated traffic safety cameras. In the past two years they have helped to reduce the average speed from 20.5 mph to 19.5 mph.
“Traffic safety camera systems are a safety measure designed to reduce accidents and slow speed in school zones,” said Dennis Peterson, Lake Forest Park’s police chief.
He explained that the placement of the cameras is based on the high volume of drivers who were speeding in those areas; and the large number of complaints of neighbors about people driving too fast.
“Officers have limited time for traffic enforcement and are not in the school zones every day,” Chief Peterson said.
So although they are able to catch people speeding, these cameras have proven much more effective.
The devices have helped to increase the amount of tickets given out each day to people speeding through school zones. The third camera has resulted in 30 more court hearings a week, Peterson said. People often want to talk the judge and explain what happened.
The city explained that while traditional traffic enforcement is effective, there is not always time for officers to focus on it in these areas. These cameras allow them to see to other crime and law enforcement tasks in the city.
Washington's Legislature passed a law in 2005 to make the cameras an option for cities.
But as cities across the United States place a greater reliance on automated cameras for catching both drivers who speed and those who run red lights, there are some who have started questioning the motivation behind them.
“They violate our civil liberties and create corruption in our cities,” explained Tim Eyman, a conservative political activist.
He explained that these cameras help cities make a lot more money than if they were simply to use police officers, which means that in their eyes citizens are no longer people, but ATM machines.
“I don’t see any safety advantages because at the end of the day the same thing can be achieved through speed indicator lights,” said Eyman.
The signs he is referring to are those that display the speed a person is driving when they pass them. If the number is above the speed limit they do not give out tickets. They are simply meant to make drivers aware of their speed.
Despite the efforts of critics, the cities' use of cameras has withstood court challenges, so far. A class action suit brought against 18 Washington cities, including Lake Forest Park, and the company that developed the camera systems, American Traffic Solutions, was dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 31.
Aimee Miner is the principal of Lake Forest Park Elementary, which is adjacent to one of the traffic safety cameras.
“We have noticed a decrease in people speeding around the school since the cameras have been up,” said Miner, “which means that it’s safer for kids to be walking.”
Lake Forest Park's red light cameras cost about $2,000 more a month to operate than the money that comes in for ticketing, but Chief Peterson said they have made a difference in deterring red light running. Recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted to discontinue red light camera ticketing.
Shoreline-Lake Forest Park editor Tony Dondero contributed to this report.