SeaTac City Council considers new company to monitor red light violators

By Jack Mayne

Chief of Police Lisa Mulligan asked the SeaTac City Council to approve an agreement with American Traffic Solutions to replace Redflex in operating red light cameras during a three year contract for $135,000 a year, with a potential extension of two years.

Everything in the proposed contract is negotiable, she said, and the Council set the issue for final debate and decision for the Oct. 10 regular Council session after Mayor Michael Siefkes and Councilmember Rich Forschler indicated the cameras should not be continued, at least for a while to gauge their value to SeaTac traffic problems.

A contract with Redflex Traffic Systems has provided red light monitoring at three locations in SeaTac for the past several years. Cameras cover S. 188th and Military Road southbound; at S. 188th and International Boulevard southbound, and at S. 200th and International northbound, said Mulligan.

Redflex replacement
The police chief said that while Redflex has legal problems in various cities where it operates cameras, the city is now looking at American Traffic Solutions of Mesa, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb.

American Traffic Solutions has a “positive” Seattle area history, with contracts in Seattle, Renton, Kent and Des Moines, among others in the state. Redflex has had criminal charges proved against it, but Mulligan said no such problems face Traffic Solutions.

Mulligan said that under the current contract, the city pays $162,000 per year. The proposed contract fee of $135,000 per year is a $27,000 savings for SeaTac. The operating cost of the Redflex contract was $206,469, which includes police review of intersection cameras and court time, but the projected American Traffic Solutions operating cost is $180,000. She said the net revenue from fines last year was $156,608.

At the May 23 Council meeting the Council expressed concern over historical criminal allegations brought against Redflex employees and told Mulligan to check out other potential vendors.

Mulligan said the Public Safety and Justice Committee on Sept. 9 recommended the full Council approve the American Traffic Solutions potential contract.

Mayor has ‘a problem’
Chief Mulligan said that if the Council did not approve a new contract for red light cameras, it would be a problem for city police.

“This would result in the loss of a valuable public safety resource,” the chief said.

“I have a problem with your alternative,” Mayor Michael Siefkes said. “I don’t think, excuse me, it is your place to editorialize on the alternatives where you are saying this would result in a loss – that is your opinion where we are the decision makers.”

Siefkes asked if the public has expressed an opinion on having the cameras and she said she was not aware of any such place where citizens were asked whether or not they approved of red light cameras.

The mayor said he is “here to represent the people out there” and “I am not hearing anybody come up to me on the street and say ‘boy, we love those red light cameras.’”

Councilmember Rick Forschler said it might be good to not have red light cameras for a while and see what might change.

“I’d be inclined to turn it down now” leaving a potential gap to see if it revealed a negative change.

Later, at the Council’s official meeting, resident Vicki Lockwood said, “I am in favor of red light cameras” and that “people who run red lights should get tickets.”

Lockwood asked “how long are you going to have to wait? How many people are you going to have to hurt or are killed before you are happy with the data?”

Cameras don’t issue tickets
Councilmember Kathryn Campbell wanted the police chief to tell her about the “protection element” of the red light cameras.

Mulligan said that during camera use in the past 10 years there were “roughly 39,000” tickets given at the three camera locations. “That means there were that many violations that a police officer didn’t catch that were caught by a camera.”

“The camera never issues the ticket,” she said.

The camera company sends a video of the potential violation to the police and a police officer reviews the incident. “It is only a ticket if a police officer’s discretion determines that a ticket is necessary and then the person who receives it can still take it to court,” said Chief Mulligan.

“It is about traffic safety for the general public … we cannot be there to see that many violations,” she said. “Too many other things going on in the city.”

Councilmember Erin Sitterley said she had to pay a ticket issued to someone else driving her car – “it is the car that gets the ticket, not the driver. It’s kind of a toothless ticket.”

She added that such a ticket does not show up in the driver’s record and the city has no “good data” on the cameras.

“40,000 people would have gotten away with running a red light in our city,” without Redflex cameras, said Councilmember Tony Anderson, adding the cameras are a “good idea.”

Fernald supports cameras
Regarding Siefkes’ comments about no one saying they like the cameras, Deputy Mayor Pam Fernald said “that just doesn’t happen, that means nothing to me,” adding she agreed with the chief that the cameras are a “valuable public safety resource” that should be continued.

Councilmember Peter Kwon said he noticed that a majority of the red light tickets were issued to people who don’t live in SeaTac. City Manager Joe Scorcio said the percentage was that 87 percent of the people getting tickets did not live in the city.

“Everybody in SeaTac knows where the red light camera are,” Kwon said.

In other action, the Council confirmed re-appointments of Jeffrey Bauknecht and Richard Scherzinger to the Hotel/Motel Tax Advisory Committee.


5 Responses to “SeaTac City Council considers new company to monitor red light violators”
  1. Tom kelly says:

    How long has Mr. Mayor lived in Seatac?
    Why not look at fire and aid response at 188th and international blvd.
    BEFORE red lights cameras and now?

    Telling a police chief that her or his opinion doesn’t matter….
    Your a Real smart one-

    • Michelle Siefkes says:

      I don’t usually get involved in stuff like this, but when someone tries to pass off things as truth, and they aren’t, I can’t just sit there.

      If you would really like to know how long “Mr. Mayor” (Methinks this is someone else commenting, because there is only one person that condescendingly calls my husband “Mr. Mayor.) has lived in Seatac, I’ll tell you.

      “Mr. Mayor” has lived in Seatac twice. Most recently for 16+ years. He also lived here in the early 90’s while he attended and graduated from both Highline Community College and University of Washington. Fortunately, he didn’t stop there, so we moved to Kansas where he attended law school, and decided to get a Masters in Business Administration as well. So he really is a “smart one”! Yes, I know you, meant that sarcastically. We were there for five years. He’s only in his 40’s, so he has spent almost half his life in Seatac.

      What this has to do with red light cameras, I’ll never know, but you asked. You didn’t really want to know, did you? You just wanted to feel superior. Like Mr. Mayor has no business questioning anything in this city because he’s not from here. Well, probably 89% of the people that live in Seatac, aren’t originally from Seatac. Does this mean they shouldn’t ever be on city council or have an opinion on anything?

      And now let’s get to your last comment.
      Said ever so smugly…
      “Telling a police chief that her or his opinion doesn’t matter….
      Your a Real smart one-”

      He NEVER said her opinion doesn’t matter. I not only asked him if he said that, I went back and watched what was said (in context) and then I wrote out every word he said.

      “First of all, I have a problem with your alternatives. I don’t think it’s, excuse me, your place to editorialize on the alternatives. Where you’re saying “this would result in a loss”, that’s your opinion. Where, we’re the decision makers on this issue, and editorializing on this…basically, you’re telling us, “it’s an alternative, but it’s not really an alternative, because in my opinion, this is going to lose us this.” So, I, I don’t think that that’s a proper way to put this in this presentation, or that same wording was used in the request for council action. So, just my personal preference…”

      They wanted a presentation of facts and alternatives. Inserted in the presentation on alternatives was her opinion.
      He never said her opinion didn’t matter. It was in the wrong place.

      I’d say “Go back and watch that segment.” But you probably just wanted to give Mike a written slap, and you did. I hope you feel better.

      I’ll just let go and let God.

  2. Roger Kadeg says:

    Following is a copy of my comments submitted to the City Council re: red light cameras

    Dear Council members:

    It has come to my attention that you are considering the introduction (actually reintroduction) of red light cameras for traffic enforcement in our city. Although I have never been “flashed” or cited by one of these devices, I am strongly opposed to their use or introduction into our city. My reasons are as follows:

    a.) They radically alter driving behavior at intersections, and are actually unsafe in many situations. While never cited, I have had to jam on my brakes on several occasions to avoid a citation when moving traffic in front of me suddenly stopped or slowed – and I had a “stale” green light or new yellow light (Rainer Ave. So. to Southbound 405 ramp). Similarly, I have had to hit the brakes hard to avoid colliding with a car that suddenly stopped in front of me. Alternately, I have had to “race” through an intersection when in it and then briefly stalled by suddenly slowed or stopped traffic, or consider stopping on a still green light!

    b.) Many/most of the resulting citations are for rolling right turns – not through intersection travel. I am also “afraid” to make a legal right turn in some cases, backing up traffic as I am uncertain what the camera will do
    c.) The only individuals guaranteed to make money are the third party vendors. It is clear by past behavior that their only interest is selling their system and maintaining a steady revenue stream. They have proven untrustworthy.

    d.) In many instances, the introduction of red light cameras has resulted in a net revenue loss to the cities. Income is NOT guaranteed.

    e.) The potential for increased court activity and litigation is significant.

    f.) A great deal of maintenance, record keeping and reporting is required under federal and state statutes. Who will do this, and how much does it cost?

    g.) Of great importance, wherever they have been installed, red light cameras have created contentious debate and controversy. They are despised by many and seen as “big brother” or a loss of freedom. The last thing we need in the city are additional issues that create more controversy or division.

    h.) As the locals become used to these devices, they may either avoid intersections where they are located, or alter driving behavior as noted above. However, the high non-resident traffic created by the Port facilities will not be familiar with these devices or their timing. It is highly likely the city will wind up citing more non-residents than residents. Ask anyone who has been so cited – do they come back to that city (unless forced) or leave with a positive impression? As we have been trying to get new businesses to relocate here, and develop incentives for individuals to stay (and spend their dollars here), the introduction of red light cameras will have the opposite chilling effect, and create the exact opposite reputation of the city that we desire to create. When people say SeaTac, do we want the response to be “avoid that place where I got the camera ticket”?

    i.) For some of the above reasons, I am aware that at least one camera (188th and International Blvd.) was previously removed. Why is this under reconsideration now?

    Following are some supporting facts to consider:
    1.) According to a study cited in the Orange County register (05/20/08), in this California county, 80 percent of the issued citations from their red light cameras went to vehicles making right turns on red (i.e. a rolling right), NOT through the intersection. As was noted, this action is hardly a pressing safety issue, and had the action been observed by an officer, it is highly unlikely a citation would have been issued. The human judgment element has been eliminated. It was quite clear the main intent was to issue $400 citations for a minor infraction – i.e. to generate revenue.

    2.) Another reviewer in the same county timed the duration of the yellow lights. It was discovered that for non-photo enforced lights, the duration was quite variable, but at a minimum five to six seconds, some more. For the photo enforced lights, the timing was consistent for all intersections at three seconds – half the typical duration [irrespective of speed limit and federal standards]. At specific high traffic camera enforced intersections it was virtually impossible to make turns at certain periods of the day without an unknowing driver becoming gridlocked into a citation. Note that these systems are supplied/maintained by a private 3rd party, with every incentive to identify/create? as many violations as possible. (Even if they do not receive a percentage of the fine, to keep their revenue they must demonstrate they are producing tickets)
    3.) Allstate insurance company, citing a 2012 study in the Kansas City Star, noted that red light cameras have made drivers more cautious, but at the same time, the incidence of rear-end collisions has increased at intersections that use traffic enforcement cameras.

    4.) In a Florida case cited by the Tampa Bay Times, a retired insurance attorney contested a photo citation arguing the state law was unconstitutional because the cameras do not prove the identity of the driver. In a slight turn of events, the judge ruled the red light camera law “shifts the burden of proof to the Defendant and therefore does not afford due process, and is unconstitutional to the extent due process is not provided.” Thus there is significant potential that our courts could be tied up with a variety of appeals, at additional expense to the city (see item 5.)
    5.) Washington State law requires municipalities operating red light camera systems to “post an annual report of the number of traffic accidents that occurred at each location” where a camera is located, plus “the number of notices of infraction issued for each camera.” According to plaintiffs, the City of Lynnwood didn’t provide those numbers for 2 ½ years, beginning in 2013, and started posting them on the city’s website only after they filed their claim. A class action lawsuit was filed on their behalf in March, 2017, seeking more than $12 million in reimbursements to drivers. According to KIRO 7 reporters, there is a high likelihood that the plaintiffs will prevail. Is the City considering the additional effort/costs to collect and maintain these records?

    6.) In a debate last May over red light cameras in the City of Arlington, TX (they have 23), it was documented that American Traffic Solutions (ATS), did not report all the violations to other cities. “Whenever the camera goes off, that is considered an event. The event is sent to the red light camera company, the red light camera company reviews the event, and they decide which events go to the city for further review. They were caught red handed not sending as many violations as they could because they wanted to give this mantra about safety that people were learning; people were changing their driving behaviors because of these cameras.” Again, consider all the potential legal ramifications of such manipulation and selective enforcement.

    7.) In 2013, the Vanguard Attorneys posted the following three cons for red light cameras: a. Municipalities install enforcement cameras with a primary focus on budgetary revenues, rather than increased public safety. b. Enforcement cameras offer greater financial benefit for out-of-state operators, like ATS, over that of local city and town governments. c. Factoring in legal fees and salaries associated with enforcing camera violations, some municipalities have realized net revenue losses stemming from these system installations.

    8.) In 2014, The Chicago Tribune reported that a former city transportation official is accused in a $2 million bribery scheme that directed a contract to Redflex. Redflex is another third party camera provider. It appears that not only for the municipalities, but especially for the vendors it is more about money rather than safety.

    9.) In a 2014 non-scientific internet poll, 78 percent of the respondents indicated that they had either slammed on their brakes to avoid a red light camera or had to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of them when the driver had slammed on his brakes. Actual resulting collisions were not noted.

    10.) In New Jersey, one physicist who was “flashed” by a red-light camera did some extensive research and discovered that the set-up of the camera was in opposition to Newton’s law of motion (rate x time = distance). Under certain conditions, there was no way to avoid a citation having entered the intersection legally. Further investigation found that if one complied with the written federal standards for setting yellow lights, it too can create a condition that results in a violation. Thus, conforming to the federal standard guarantees a steady stream of drivers running red lights. It is illegal to pass and enforce such laws, and he has subsequently filed a class action lawsuit against the city. In another legal case, the state’s camera laws were put on hold for a majority of their cameras as it was discovered many of the municipalities had failed to properly conduct or maintain records of required 6 month inspections of the camera system. Revenues from these cameras may be returned ( New Jersey Star Ledger 07/12/12).

    11.) Testimony from the County Council representative from District 3, which encompasses most of the city of Arnold, MO. : “The cameras were installed there in 2005, and we have had over five years to try this experiment. And the results are very clear. In regards to changing drivers’ behavior and reducing accidents, the cameras simply do not accomplish this goal. According to a recent study by the Missouri Department of Transportation, accidents at three of the four intersections in Arnold with red light cameras have gone up — by as much as 370 percent at one intersection. The number of violations (cars running red lights) has gone up from 4,600 in 2006 to 9,440 in 2010. The only success these cameras have had is to generate revenue for the city of Arnold, at the tune of almost $2 million since the system was started. It has been proven in Arnold that red light cameras do not change driver behavior for the better, and that they actually make intersections more dangerous, not less. And with 9,440 chances to injure or kill somebody last year alone, the choice to end the red light camera program is very clear to me. If it saves one life by not implementing these dangerous cameras, the ends do justify the means.

    Thank-you for your time and consideration of my comments and this information!

  3. Bill Rayburn says:

    The one thing that is interesting in all this are the seemingly high numbers of people caught in violation, 38,000 in just three intersections in SeaTac, as reported above. If the law is so flagrantly violated why not simply station a dedicated officer at these three intersections. Nine officers total to man that post 24hours a day if necessary. At $75.00 per violation that’s $2,850,000.00 dollars, more than enough to compensate nine officer’s salaries, pay for three fully equipped brand new vehicles and all the gear and still make a huge tidy profit.