Burien's Red Light Camera Citations Are "In The Mail" 1By Jack Mayne

Any day now, cameras mounted high over three First Avenue intersections will record motorists running red lights and after local review of each photo, citations will be mailed to the owners of the offending vehicles.

The violation fine set by the Burien City Council is $101 now, but state law allows it to go up to a maximum of $124.

There are two cameras at First and SW 148th, focusing both east and west on 148th. The camera at First and SW 152nd tracks westbound vehicles and the one at SW 160th tracks eastbound traffic.

“Those intersections have a lot of accidents and this is really about safety to us,” said Mike Martin, Burien city manager. “It is not about the revenue. What we expect to see is a lot of tickets the first few months and then we expect it to decline. We thought about doing similar things in schools zones, we thought about doing it on Ambaum Boulevard it terms of speeding.”Burien's Red Light Camera Citations Are "In The Mail" 2

But not now.

He says the city has access to a limited number of officers and “they are very focused on property crimes, gangs and all those sorts of things, so we don’t have a lot of cops here who can sit around and write tickets, (which are) a lower priority than other things.”

Letting the King County Sheriff’s deputies, who act under contract as Burien police officers, do other things to keep the city safer is more important than sitting at an intersection, Martin said.

The cameras were turned on March 1st for what was to be a 30-day grace period that has now been extended but may end any day. Courtesy warning notices were sent, but $101 citations can be expected any day after a motorist is doing a rolling stop or running a red light, Martin said.

The extension was because of “some technical details with Redflex,” the Culver City, Calif.-based company that own and maintains the cameras, said K. Scott Kimerer, Burien’s police chief.

Martin says the city has made every effort to warn motorists of the cameras and that tickets will be issue at some point. He said there have been notices in the city bulletin; there are signs at the camera intersections.

“We don’t want people to get tickets,” the city manager said. “We are hoping that if a person gets a warning ticket he will tell others about the cameras.”

He was not certain there would be another warning when the city ceased sending warning tickets and began sending actual tickets to motorists.

“We are very close to actually issuing citations,” Martin said.Burien's Red Light Camera Citations Are "In The Mail" 3

All photographs of motorists’ cars are reviewed in Burien.

“An officer reviews all of the photos because it has to be a legal violation,” Martin said, and not near-misses like someone entering the intersection on a yellow light.

“The camera does not make the decision, a human being does,” Martin said.

Now, each intersection is yielding about 60 tickets a week, which would bring in $6,060 per week. That adds up to more than $315,000 per year at the current rate.

“It is absolutely not for revenue, I can state that unequivocally. We are worried about people getting hurt in those intersection and if there weren’t a problem, we would not have the cameras there.”

The lone “no” vote on the cameras came from second term councilmember Gordon Shaw, who is not convinced that safety was the reason.

Burien's Red Light Camera Citations Are "In The Mail" 4“It is my view that this red light camera issue is not about safety, although that is what it is being sold as,” Shaw said. “I am not opposed to the revenue aspect of it but just believe if that is the reason for the city doing it … the public should be aware of it.”

He said a lot about the red light camera issue “goes against my grain” and could be a bit of an invasion of privacy.”

Despite Martin’s view that police are limited in number, Shaw says if there is a real red light problem, “we ought to have a police officer out there” to use human judgment as to “conditions and circumstances” before deciding to issue a citation.

Shaw said he understood that the camera vendor, Redflex, would collect the fines.

But that is not the case, said Lori Fleming, a managing analyst in the Burien Finance Department.

The photos are all collected online, then reviewed by a Burien officer, who chooses the motorists who will get citations. Those “approved” photos are digitally sent to Redflex and citations are mailed from California.

Inside the citation are three “coupons,” said Fleming. One says ‘I am guilty, here is my money.’ Another says the ‘I did not have control of the car that it was a rented car, loaned, stolen or sold’ and the owner must send in justifying and supporting information. A third “coupon” says ‘I want a court hearing.’

All money is sent to King County District Court and eventually goes to the City of Burien. The court collects all fines, including the red light fines, and, once a year, audits the fund and, in effect, deducts the court costs and pays the city the rest.

The three-year agreement with Redflex, which can be extended for two years twice, will cost the city up to $6,800 a month, depending upon the volume of violations approved by city officers. The contract may be cancelled by the city with a 30-day notice.

City Manager Martin said other high traffic sites were considered but then dropped for now.

“We may consider cameras on Ambaum, but first we are going to see if these work; we are going to see how the community responds to them and if they do what we intend them to do,” Martin said. “What we are considering (putting) on Ambaum (and in school zones) is these solar-powered radar speed signs…which are very effective on slowing down traffic.”

It may not be a very wise idea to simply toss a citation of a red light violation until you are sure it is just a warning and not the real thing. Failing to pay a court fine is punishable by a larger fine or even some eventual lodging in a place most of us would rather avoid.

So what to you think of Burien’s Red Light Cameras? Please take our poll below:

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Jack Mayne is a freelance writer who may be contacted at [email protected]