Discussions about out-of-state plates among Battle Ground residents has shifted toward talk of implementing traffic cameras in school zones.
During its Sept. 18 meeting, the Battle Ground City Council discussed possibly implementing red light, speed zone and vehicle plate-reader cameras. Though no vote was taken, the council directed staff to explore the costs of implementing camera systems intended to promote public safety in the city.
Discussions on out-of-state plates in the city had been informally discussed during councilor communications in several past meetings. Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson had complained multiple times that state law on vehicle registration was not being enforced.
The last meeting’s presentation marked the first time the issue was discussed as an actual agenda item. Battle Ground Deputy City Manager Robert Ferrier said staff reached out to Moses Lake, which had installed automatic license plate reader cameras, after which the Battle Ground council directed staff to get information on automatic traffic safety cameras, which could record traffic light and speed violations.
Ferrier said staff reached out to other Washington cities and a number of groups including the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs about policy and legal constraints.
If approved for use, the city would have to pay a vendor for the camera service based on the vendor’s use of resources and equipment and not what fines are collected, Ferrier said. He added, if used for speed violations, half of the infraction fees go to the state.
Through anecdotal conversation, Ferrier said some cities break even using traffic cameras and others generate some revenue from the issued infractions.
Before the city approves the use of the cameras, it is required to analyze where and how the cameras will be used, Ferrier said. Camera locations need to be marked 30 days before activation, and the city has to report annual reports about accidents in the area, infractions issued by the camera and other relevant information.
Ferrier noted the approach of traffic cameras is focused on current enforcement, while license plate readers focused on crimes that have already occurred like vehicle theft and licensing fraud. The council did not discuss the plate readers as much as what the traffic cameras could do in the city.
Councilor Dan Dingman said he saw multiple pickup trucks pass him going well above the school zone limit on Main Street while the limit was in effect that morning.
“I, personally, would love to see those cameras to enforce our speed zones in our school zones,” Dingman said.
Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort said no officers are currently designated to traffic enforcement. It is something the department is looking forward to reinstating in 2024 with two designated traffic officers.
Those officers would most likely be on a “swing shift,” Fort said. Councilor Shane Bowman said that this would not be a setup that could address the morning times in the school zones as students arrived at their buildings.
Councilor Tricia Davis wasn’t sold on either the license plate readers or the traffic cameras, favoring the use of police personnel.
“I think a great deterrent is if you’re driving down and you see the blue lights, they know you’re there,” Davis said.
Johnson asked whether Davis would put forth a resolution to have the proposed traffic officers perform school zone enforcement “come hell or high water” after years when it wasn’t a department priority. He spoke of conversations he has had with crossing guards who see firsthand how motorists in the city violate the rules of the road.
“We have a problem, and we’re not as a city acknowledging that problem,” Johnson said.
Even if there were some officers available, the city has several school zones, and asking for an officer to sit and monitor the area was asking a lot, Bowman said.
“This is just another tool that we can use,” Bowman said about the cameras.
Traffic enforcement strictly by officers has also been impacted by turnover and recruitment efforts by the department, Bowman noted.
Johnson suggested looking at the city’s options in installing traffic cameras, including along state routes within city limits. He noted that may become an issue given the cross of jurisdictions.
“If we need the blessing of WSDOT, we might as well just hang that up because God knows what they will do,” Johnson said.