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SEATTLE -- Two years ago, red-light runners in Seattle began receiving photographic evidence of their traffic offenses tucked neatly in their mailboxes, along with a hefty ticket.
Starting this summer, drivers who speed through school zones will be the next target of the law-enforcement lens.
Seattle police plan to equip a van with audio, video, radar and cameras and will park it in school zones to catch people speeding and breaking other traffic laws, said Mike Quinn, a senior planner with the department. Police will just be mailing out warnings to drivers caught this summer; actual tickets will be issued after school starts in the fall.
"There's a real concern about pedestrian safety in the city, especially in regards to young people at schools," Quinn said. "Our purpose is to reduce speeds in those zones when children are present."
The Seattle City Council appropriated $178,000 for a 10-month pilot project, which includes leasing a van, purchasing equipment and paying overtime salary for an officer to run the vehicle, Quinn said.
Traffic Officer Dean Shirey said that because state law requires police to notify motorists when they have a targeted emphasis, they will post signs about a block from where the van is parked. Shirey said the van will help capture more speeders because the cameras are always rolling.
Now, when Shirey nabs people in school zones, he says, he misses other traffic scofflaws because he's tied up writing a ticket.
"It's more efficient because an officer in the van is going to capture every violator," Shirey said.
Drivers caught on camera by officers in the school-zone van will receive a ticket in the mail. They'll be able to log onto a secure Web site and see video captured by the van, Shirey said.
"They can go to the Web site and see exactly what we, as the screening officer, see," Shirey said, adding that a ticket for driving faster than the 20 mph limit in a school zone is $189.
Shirey and Officer Jim Morgan, who head the department's photo-response unit, will review the photos captured by the van before a ticket is mailed. In the two years since the city installed six red-light cameras at intersections, the two officers have reviewed images stemming from the more than 20,000 mailed out.
A spokeswoman for a Wisconsin-based motorists-rights group said Friday they oppose any photo or video enforcement by police.
"Obviously, you are presumed guilty. Everyone should have a chance to confront their accuser," said Bonnie Sesolak, spokeswoman for the National Motorists Association.
The National Motorists Association has fought police departments in nearly every state on photo enforcement, Sesolak said.
Seattle police will be modeling the school-zone van program largely on one in Lakewood, Pierce County.
Lakewood police Lt. Dave Guttu said their two vans patrol school zones shortly before classes start and end each weekday. "It's been a success in bringing down the number of accidents and injuries in school zones," Guttu said.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.