Drivers in Kent will face six more intersections with red-light cameras next year after the City Council decided to expand the program.
City leaders say they support the program because it helps make intersections safer and brings in revenue to pay for the body-worn cameras used by Kent Police officers.
Kent began its red-light camera program at six intersections in 2019 after complaints by residents about drivers running the lights and to help pay for a new body-worn camera program for officers. Running a red light costs the owner of the vehicle $136. Kent officers review photos and videos to determine whether to issue a ticket.
The program produced $2.78 million in revenue in 2021 and has brought in $1.73 million through August 2022, according to City Finance Director Paula Painter. The revenue was $2.45 million in 2020.
The council approved the additional cameras at its Sept. 20 Operations and Public Safety Committee meeting. That decision sent the measure to the Oct. 4 council meeting to be approved as part of the consent calendar, which are items the council votes on all at once and are considered noncontroversial.
The additional cameras are expected to produce about $1.8 million per year in revenue, Painter said. That amount will be lower in 2023 since the cameras aren’t expected to be up and operating until the second half of the year.
“We don’t have a firm timeline for installation and implementation yet,” Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said in an email. “We would like to have them operating by mid-2023, but there are a lot of factors that may push that out.
“We want the community to know that we will begin operation of the cameras only after the installation of proper warning signage at the intersections, significant public notice and a 30-day warning period. During the warning period, violators will receive a warning notice instead of a ticket. We don’t want anyone to be surprised by the cameras.”
The intersections that will get cameras in all directions are:
■ SE 208th Street and 108th Avenue SE
■ SE 240th Street and 116th Avenue SE
■ West Meeker Street and Washington Avenue North
■ Kent Kangley Road and 116th Avenue SE
■ South 228th Street and 68th Avenue South
■ South 212th Street and 68th Avenue South
Kent already has cameras at the intersections of 104th Avenue SE and SE 240th Street; 104th Avenue SE and SE 256th Street; 84th Avenue S. and S. 212th Street; Central Avenue N. and E. James Street; Central Avenue N. and E. Smith Street; and Kent-Des Moines Road and Pacific Highway S.
The council asked the police department last year to look into adding red-light cameras at more intersections where the most crashes occur. Assistant Chief Eric Hemmen brought back that information to the council in November and reported that a traffic study showed the cameras would pay for themselves because of the number of red-light violators at the six intersections during the study.
At the current six intersections, the number of running red-light tickets went up to 32,491 in 2021 from 29,576 in 2020, according to police documents. The highest number of infractions are at southbound Central Avenue North and East Smith Street (4,713) followed by northbound Central Avenue North and East James Street (4,212).
“We anticipated that the number of tickets would go down during the pandemic, but that did not happen,” Padilla said. “I don’t know what drove the increase in violations. I do know we were in the middle of a significant police staffing shortage in 2021. The unfortunate result of that was that our high-visibility preventative patrol significantly decreased as we had to focus the majority of our uniformed units on 911 call response. Our top priority was to be able to maintain emergency response capabilities.”
But while the number of tickets is up, the number of collisions at the six intersections has dropped, according to police documents. In 2019 there were 164 collisions. That dropped to 122 in 2020 and to 56 in 2021.
“Our data indicates that while violations continue to be high, collisions have seen a modest decrease,” Padilla said. “While it would be great if we had zero violations, the fact that there are less collisions, means there is less risk of injury or death. Those are outcomes we strongly support.”
Padilla said during a time where the department has had police staffing challenges and limitations on its ability to enforce traffic violations, automated enforcement technology is assisting in keeping the roadways safer.
As far as drivers who complain about the city’s use of red-light cameras, Padilla said there’s a simple answer.
“These fines are completely avoidable,” he said. “If you never run a red light, you will not have worry about getting a red light camera ticket.”
The city will extend its existing contract with Arizona-based Verra Mobility for another five years starting May 31, 2023 through May 30, 2028 to add the additional red-light cameras. It is the third amendment to the contract. Kent initially agreed to a five-year contract with the company in 2018 at $651,000 per year to handle camera installation and maintenance along with the processing and mailing of infractions.
Body-worn camera contract
The City Council approved Sept. 20 an extension of a contract with Arizona-based Axon for the police body-worn cameras.
The city has a five-year contract that expires in September 2024. The new agreement extends the contract through September 2029 in an amount not to exceed $4.5 million, according to city documents.
The Police Department needs a new records management system and the city’s Information Technology (IT) Department selected Axon for the work.
With the new agreement, the department will get six more cameras so all officers have them. Axon also will replace Tasers for all officers in 2024 and body-worn camera replacements to be spread out in 2024, 2026 and 2029.
While revenue from the red-light cameras will pay for the body-worn cameras at about $568,000 per year. The cost of the Axon records management system will be covered by IT’s budgeted funds at about $65,693 per year.