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Photo enforcement system nabs 3,000 in two weeks

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Practice time is over; it's time for the real deal.

Bonney Lake Police Chief Mike Mitchell reported a two-week trial for nabbing speeders has been completed. Since Sept. 27, real tickets for $101 have been mailed to drivers caught going too fast in school zones.

The issue centers around the city's use of an automated speed enforcement system, a program that met with unexpected results.

Mitchell said during a two-week period, 3,000 violators were cited and sent warning tickets. Speeds were monitored in various zones around the city, including the neighborhood around Bonney Lake High School and the Locust Avenue area near Bonney Lake Elementary.

“It took everyone by surprise,” Mitchell said of the high number of infractions. “It's not like the city hasn't gone the extra mile to warn people.”

Prior to kicking off the speed enforcement system, the city posted “school zone” signs with photo enforcement warnings. The school zone times were changed from 24 hours to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The enforcement system is contracted from Nestor Traffic Systems of Providence, R.I. The city will pay $15,000 per month to Nestor for the system.

At a rate of 1,500 infractions per week, the city could bring in $606,000 per month. After paying Nestor its share, the city would keep $591,000.

City official do not expect violations to continue to run that high. According to Mayor Neil Johnson, the system was set to trigger a warning ticket for anyone exceeding 20 mph limit, even those traveling 21 mph.

“Tolerance was very low,” Johnson said. “But I want people to understand we are setting a high priority on public safety and trying to get people to slow down. I expect the numbers to dwindle considerably, eventually to just a handful.”

Mitchell said the system will be set to allow for “speedometers not perfectly accurate and people with new tires. But the speed zones will be strictly enforced.”

Johnson said the city's intent is to increase public safety, not generate additional revenue.

“We can't count on funds from this,” Johnson said. “Any money on the plus side goes to public safety needs.”

If the city does not receive $15,000 in fines during a given month - the amount due Nestor - it does not have to pay the difference.

Also, the city does not have to share revenues collected from the system with the state, as it does with speeding tickets issued by an officer.

The Nestor uses LiDAR (light detection and ranging technology). According to Nestor representatives, LiDAR is different from radar because it clocks the speed of individual cars more effectively.

The LiDAR unit is set on a tripod and is connected to a van equipped with a computer system. The unit can be as much as 800 feet from the van.

A Nestor technician operates the system from inside the van and each day a Bonney Lake police officer reviews the infractions.

The tickets are not reported to the registered owner's insurance company, nor are they considered moving violations. The courts treat them like a parking ticket.

The tickets will go through the Bonney Lake Municipal Court and can be contested.

“I think it will be successful,” Mitchell said. “But there will probably be some angry people.”

Tickets are sent 10 days after the violation and a person has 15 days after the ticket is mailed to pay. Violators who do not pay are sent a second notice with a $25 fine added. If the person refuses to pay the second notice, the ticket is sent to a collection agency.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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