Puyallup weighs red-light camera contract renewal
Puyallup might become the first Pierce County city to stop using red-light cameras since Bonney Lake turned off its sole camera in 2007.
The Puyallup City Council on Tuesday considered a five-year extension of the city’s contract with its camera vendor. But instead of signing off, members approved a 30-day extension and called for a study session next month to talk more about the program.
Some council members said they oppose the cameras. Some said they didn’t want to make a decision without more information and public input.
The city of 37,000 people has used red-light cameras for about five years. Today, there are cameras at 13 intersection approaches in the city.
Some cameras at the intersection of Ninth Street Southwest and 39th Avenue Southwest have been inactive for more than two years due to construction but are expected to be reactivated soon, the city’s police chief wrote in a memo.
Puyallup Police say cameras are improving safety.
Excluding the Ninth -39th intersection, there were 11 accidents and two injuries last year at four intersections with cameras, according to police department statistics. That compares with 14 accidents and seven injuries at the intersections in 2007, the year before the camera program was put in place, the information says.
Deputy Police Chief Bryan Jeter told the council that the cameras serve as a “force multiplier” for police.
“We can’t be at every traffic signal,” he said.
A Puyallup officer reviews the red-light violations before a ticket is issued. The $124 tickets are treated like parking tickets and don’t go on people’s driving records.
Puyallup isn’t the only local city using photo enforcement; so do Tacoma, Lakewood, Fife, Auburn, Federal Way and Lacey.
In some cities around the state – including Mukilteo, Longview and Bellingham – voters have opposed red-light cameras through initiative campaigns.
But the state Supreme Court ruled this month that local initiative power can’t be used to shut down red-light and speed cameras; state law gives that authority only to city councils and other local governing bodies. A state representative from Enumclaw last week introduced a bill that would extend the power to voters.
One common criticism of the cameras is that cities rely on them more as a revenue generator than as a tool to improve public safety.
Last year, Puyallup received about $485,000 in net revenue from the cameras after paying about $560,000 to vendor American Traffic Solutions and accounting for staff costs, according to information from the city.
Some Puyallup council members said Wednesday that they aren’t convinced the cameras are doing enough for traffic safety to justify their use. And some said their constituents don’t want them.
“I think the public in general opposes them,” said Deputy Mayor John Knutsen. “It’s my job to represent the public.”
Councilman John Palmer said he feels the cameras are making travel safer and are helping maximize police resources. He also said he knows some community members have concerns.
Palmer said some options worth exploring include reducing the ticket amount and dedicating the revenue to public safety projects.
Puyallup’s existing contract with its camera vendor expires in mid-April.
Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058