I have read the Herald article published on April 11, written by Rikki King regarding traffic enforcement cameras in Lynnwood. I have also read the Herald editorial published April 13, by the editorial staff. It appears to me that there is some misunderstanding in and around traffic enforcement technology. As a former member of the Lynnwood City Council, I have done a fair amount of personal research on the matter and have heard the arguments from several perspectives. I would like to add my comments as a Lynnwood citizen.
One misunderstanding is that traffic camera technology is primarily about safety. While there are some safety components, it seems to me that this is a bit overstated. The real advantage of photo enforcement technology is this: it is a very effective law enforcement tool. Notwithstanding, King’s piece states that over 35,000 infractions have been issued to drivers in Lynnwood school zones since 2007. Is it possible that photo enforcement cameras might have actually prevented an injury to a child or even a death during that time? That would be a safety component clearly. One another possible safety benefit of this technology is that photo enforcement helps keep police officers off the side of the road and out of harm’s way.
The second misunderstanding is in around the revenue component. Many of the fines are never paid or collected. The revenue number quoted in King’s article from 2015 of $2.75 million is a gross number of what is collected before the vendor takes out their big chunk. Notwithstanding, the city uses photo enforcement revenue to pay bills just as it would for revenue regarding a traditional fine. Eliminating the photo enforcement program would guarantee that Lynnwood citizens would have to pay higher taxes or receive reduced city services. A casual drive on the beat up Lynnwood streets will prove that Lynnwood isn’t “rolling in the dough.”
Thirdly, there is a misunderstanding about implementation. In Washington state, photo enforcement infractions are essentially expensive parking tickets and most notably these infractions aren’t a permanent mark on a driver’s record. Approximately 40 percent of the violations are tossed out in the two review processes and the entire collected revenue goes to the city. With traditional tickets, there is no review, most of the revenue goes to the state coffers and our officers must spend precious patrol time in court testifying and such.
Lastly, there is a misunderstanding about public sentiment. According to a comprehensive national study done in 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the majority of drivers in 14 major cities surveyed approve of photo enforcement of traffic violations. While this issue can be polarizing and unpopular, the real question at hand is whether Lynnwood citizens prefer photo enforcement rather than the alternative of reduced city services or raising taxes. I think most citizens prefer the former.
In 2012, the Lynnwood City Council held a public hearing on the matter at the Lynnwood Convention Center. The event was well publicized with both the print and television media on hand. Interestingly, there was no outcry or vitriol from the public but rather only a few polite questions from the few attendees. I firmly believe most thinking Lynnwood citizens understand that photo enforcement of traffic, while imperfect, isn’t the Draconian issue that the Herald has contended.
Traffic cameras don’t require health insurance, go on sick leave or take vacations and they are nearly flawless in their efficiency. Moreover, since technology is ubiquitous in our modern world and I see no reason why it can’t or shouldn’t be used in law enforcement.
Sid Roberts lives in Lynnwood and a past city council member.