Company challenges traffic camera ticket in Moses Lake

By Joe Chapman, Herald staff writerJune 22, 2009 

A company whose driver was ticketed for allegedly speeding in a Moses Lake school zone took the city to court last week, challenging the city's use of cameras for speed enforcement.

The suit came after the city has been using traffic cameras for about a year, both to enforce red lights and school zone speeds.

"The community was really getting to the point where they'd had enough of people running red lights," said Police Chief Dean Mitchell, explaining the city's decision to use the cameras. "And we don't have the personnel to station somebody at each intersection here in Moses Lake and work traffic control."

The city contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., to install and monitor the system. Signs were posted to warn drivers of the use of the cameras.

Redflex installed the equipment at its own cost and assists police in processing suspected traffic violations. The company recoups installation costs by getting a portion of fines that are assessed. Fines also generate some revenue that the city puts back into criminal justice, Mitchell said.

But the system isn't designed to be a money maker for the city, he said.

"The whole intent of the program is to modify behavior by the driving public here in Moses Lake," Mitchell said.

The cameras initially decreased red light violations, but after about six months the number of violations seemed to return to levels they were at before the cameras were installed, Mitchell said. The city will do an analysis of the cameras' effectiveness in the coming months, he said.

The city also had two cameras installed to enforce the speed limit within a school zone near the high school, where the speed limit drops to 20 mph when warning lights are flashing. Those cameras had a more obvious impact on reducing speeding than the red light cameras had, Mitchell said.

Regardless of the effectiveness, Harold Moberg, a Moses Lake attorney representing Specialty Welding Inc., says the city's use of speed enforcement cameras violates state law in several ways. Specialty Welding sued the city after it used the system to issue a speeding ticket to one of its drivers in March.

The suit alleges the city's use of the cameras is faulty because it shifts the burden of proof, requiring the defendant to overcome a presumption of guilt. It also alleges problems with the size of the fines the city issues for violations and the tiered system with which it compensates Redflex for running the system.

"In a general sense, I'm very frustrated that we're allowing photo enhancement to address speeding violations because I just don't think they're trustworthy," Moberg said. "I also don't think the statute authorizes the city to do what it's doing."

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