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Lakewood council ends speed-camera vans
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BRENT CHAMPACO; The News Tribune
Published: 09/23/09 12:05 am
In two to three weeks, the camera vans that roam Lakewood school zones to nab speeders will be gone.
The city that introduced the state to school-zone vans eight years ago amended its contract with Redflex Traffic Systems on Monday, effectively ending the roving camera approach.
The Lakewood City Council voted 3-2 to install fixed cameras near two schools – Park Lodge Elementary and Lochburn Middle – and have uniformed officers periodically patrol all school zones.
Before Monday’s vote, a few residents complained that tickets administered by cameras are error-prone and difficult to contest.
Councilmen Pad Finnigan and Ron Cronk spoke against the new approach before casting no votes. Council members Helen McGovern and Walter Neary were absent.
Finnigan said the intent of the original contract with Redflex was to reduce the speed of vehicles. Officials say there hasn’t been a serious pedestrian-vehicle accident in a school zone in Lakewood’s 13-year history.
The amendment to install fixed cameras is a “disproportionate reaction, or solution, to a problem we don’t have,” Finnigan said.
However, Police Chief Bret Farrar reiterated the need to keep the unarmed community resource officers who staff the vans safe, citing encounters in other states where angry drivers have confronted officers who staff the vans.
Sometimes the emotions can spill even further. Two years ago, The News Tribune reported that several drivers were caught on film by Lakewood’s van, which was parked periodically on the grounds of St. Frances Cabrini School. After receiving tickets, the angry drivers confronted school staff.
Farrar said fixed cameras also are a way for the city to take advantage of technology. Lakewood already has fixed cameras at some intersections.
As for residents’ complaints that the cameras don’t accurately ticket drivers, Farrrar said he hopes Lakewood’s municipal court can resolve any issues.
“Technology has bugs, and we will try our best to work them out,” he said.
Other South Sound communities have installed fixed cameras near schools, but Lakewood and Seattle are the only ones in the Puget Sound area that routinely use vans.
After administrative costs, Lakewood nets more than $400,000 annually from camera tickets, which pays for three additional traffic officers.
Clover Park School Board member Paul Wagemann told Lakewood leaders Monday that the school board hoped at least some of the money generated from school-zone speeding tickets would be invested back in school patrols.
The Clover Park School Board also asked for flashing lights to warn drivers at all school zones, as well as more police patrols.
The city says it installed flashing school zone lights on busy, arterial streets, which explains why some streets don’t have them.
Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653