Kent to add two more school traffic cameras

Red light cameras could be next

Kent drivers will soon face two more school traffic camera zones and could eventually see the city’s first red light cameras.

The City Council approved Tuesday night a Kent Police proposal to add cameras this fall to catch speeding drivers at Meadow Ridge and Springbrook elementary schools on the East Hill. The council also approved a feasibility study proposed by police about whether to add red light cameras at certain intersections to catch drivers who run the lights.

“We routinely get complaints about speeders through school zones and requests from schools themselves,” Police Chief Rafael Padilla said to the council’s Public Safety Committee on July 10 about reasons for adding cameras at two more schools. “With our limited ability and resources in terms of officers, we can’t get to them. We have even been asked to have cameras at every school.”

City leaders began the program – at the request of the Kent School District – in 2014 with cameras at Sunrise and Neely-O’Brien elementary schools. The city added cameras in September 2015 at Meridian and Millennium grade schools.

“We are all about public safety so that kids go to and from school without any incident,” Council President Bill Boyce said at the committee meeting. “The cameras get their (drivers) attention to slow down.”

City revenue from cameras

The cameras also bring in a lot of revenue to the city, according to a May article in the Kent Reporter. The city of Kent collected a record $1.2 million in 2017 from drivers caught speeding by cameras in four school zones, according to City Finance Department documents. Kent has collected $4.2 million since the school traffic camera program started four years ago with 2017 hitting the highest amount.

Kent Police plan to use $868,000 from the fund this year to buy 14 police vehicles as part of a new car-per-officer program that allows officers to take their vehicles home to use for commuting. Police also plan to buy 14 cars each in 2019 and 2020 for a total expenditure of about $2.6 million over three years.

Padilla said the additional cameras are about safety and not raising more revenue to pay for police vehicles.

“The impetus behind adding additional cameras stemmed from routine complaints about speeders in schools zones from people who insist that the city do more to keep their children safe,” he said in an email. “With a track record of being successful in reducing speed violations at other schools, it only made sense to see if there was a need for additional cameras.

“When the data returned, it clearly showed that Meadow Ridge and Springbrook elementary Schools had a high rate of speed violations.”

Police issue a $124 fine for a vehicle exceeding the 20 mph school speed limit by 1 to 9 mph and issue a $248 fine for speeds of 10 mph or faster above the speed limit. The cameras operate for 30 minutes in the morning before school and 30 minutes in the afternoon after school.

In 2017, officers issued a total of 9,342 tickets, including 3,401 tickets at Neely-O’Brien; 2,798 at Sunrise; 1,436 at Millennium and 1,686 at Meridian. The city issued 9,101 tickets in 2016; 8,122 in 2015 and 8,366 in 2014.

The city pays Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), Inc., about $462,000 per year to provide the camera services that include the equipment as well as mailing tickets. After that expense is paid, the city pays for extra court costs and the officers who review the citations. The city can use the rest of the funds for enforcement and processing of traffic and criminal laws, according to city ordinance, which has led to the decision to by new police vehicles.

Two more cameras will cost the city about $4,075 per month per camera, Padilla said.

Kent picks the schools for cameras based on traffic studies that showed the roads with the most violations. ATS conducted the most recent study for free for the city, looking at 13 schools. The results showed Meadow Ridge, 27710 108th Ave. SE, and Springbrook, 20035 100th Ave. SE, with the most drivers over the speed limit.

ATS contracts with more than 160 municipalities throughout the U.S., including 18 in Washington for red light, speed and school bus stop arm cameras, said company spokesman Charles Territo in an email. It has more than 4,000 cameras across the nation, with nearly 360 in Washington.

“ATS plays in an important role in helping communities like the city of Kent enhance road safety,” Territo said.

Red light camera study

Padilla, promoted in May by Mayor Dana Ralph to chief, told the Public Safety Committee the department hears a lot of complaints from residents about drivers running red lights.

“We can’t be at all of them at all times,” Padilla said about the 120 major intersections in town.

ATS will conduct the study for free, Padilla said. The company will examine traffic data, implementation cost, revenue projection and impact on staff time.

Padilla expects to come back to the committee in October with details about using red light cameras in Kent at certain intersections. He said any contract with ATS to install red light cameras would be a separate city contract from the school traffic cameras agreement with the company.

“We are very early on in the process and once we submit our report, there will be lots of discussion on the part of the City Council as well as an opportunity for public comment,” Padilla said in an email. “I expect that topics such as the potential effectiveness of the cameras and the potential revenue impact will be a big part of the discussion.”

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