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Kent considers adding cameras to catch school-zone speeders

The city of Kent is considering adding cameras to catch speeders at school zones similar to what the city of Des Moines uses along 24th Avenue South in the Highline School District. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
The city of Kent is considering adding cameras to catch speeders at school zones similar to what the city of Des Moines uses along 24th Avenue South in the Highline School District.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

The city of Kent might install cameras in the fall to catch speeders of more than 20 mph at as many as three school zones.

"It came from me," said City Councilman Bill Boyce about the idea to add the cameras. "I think it's a good thing. I served on the (Kent) School Board for 17 years and it's all about safety. I've seen the cameras in other cities and I asked our police chief why we were not doing that in Kent?"

Just about every city surrounding Kent runs the school-zone cameras, including Auburn, Federal Way, Des Moines and Renton. Seattle added the cameras last year.

As chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, Boyce directed Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas and his staff to study what it would take to add school zone speeding cameras in Kent.

If approved by the three-member committee and the full seven-member council, cameras could be operational in the fall. Boyce hopes to get the proposal to the council in April or May.

"We'll pilot three schools to start," Thomas said. "We'll do studies before we pick the schools, talk to the Kent School District about their concerns and review our traffic data."

Boyce, in his second year on the council, emphasized the cameras aren't being considered in order to increase city revenue.

"People can look at it that way," Boyce said when asked about whether residents might oppose the cameras as a revenue-raising tactic. "This is about protecting kids by being pro-active. My goal is to (eventually, if drivers follow the speed limit) not give out any tickets."

The Mukilteo City Council in 2011 repealed an ordinance to allow traffic cameras for running red lights and speeding in school zones after city voters passed an initiative to restrict cameras.

Cameras will take a photo of a speeding vehicle (measured by radar sensors) and after review by a police officer, the hired company will send a ticket to the vehicle's registered owner.

Des Moines charges $210 for a speeding ticket in a school zone. Seattle charges $189.

"We haven't determined a dollar amount yet," Boyce said.

Kent Police traffic Sgt. Robert Constant gave an informational report Feb. 12 to the Public Safety Committee. He said the traffic volumes at schools need to be high enough to support the cost of the cameras. He has met with two outside vendors interested in getting the city contract to provide the cameras.

"The maintenance cost with an outside vendor and our costs per month does negate certain schools from being able to participate based on the fact of volume," Constant said. "The areas we utilize will need to have enough contact (vehicles) to support the service."

The city will soon post a request for proposals (RFP) to get bids from companies, Constant said.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions contracts with Des Moines, Seattle, Federal Way, Issaquah and more than 300 other communities to provide traffic camera services that include the equipment as well as mailing out tickets.

Constant said he found out by talking to neighboring cities that violators drop off significantly after the first six months to a year following camera installation. He said Des Moines Police saw a 82 percent reduction and Renton a 62 percent drop after a year. But despite the drops, the cities still had enough violators to pay for the program.

Kent city officials still need to determine where any revenue from the tickets would go after costs are covered.

"It's very important to me that the funding generated from the program goes back into traffic safety and not find its way to other places where it might be needed," said Councilwoman Dana Ralph, a Public Safety Committee member.

Thomas said fellow police chiefs he talked to said their cities designated funds to traffic enforcement or pedestrian and vehicle safety.

"It's about kids getting to school safely," Thomas said. "It's not meant to generate more revenue. The purpose is to keep kids safe."

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