12/14/2011Washington: Emails Shed Light on Traffic Camera Firm
Private firm calls the shots on photo enforcement in Lynnwood, Washington.
In August, the mayor of Lynnwood, Washington announced an independent investigation into the relationship between city officials and traffic camera operator American Traffic Solutions (ATS). A series of reports in the Everett Daily Herald exposed how Lynnwood Police Sergeant Wayne "Kawika" Davis sought to land a job at ATS and took every opportunity to ingratiate himself to the company's management, including use of taxpayer resources to promote ATS business interests.
Newly obtained emails between Lynnwood officials and ATS shed additional light on the close ties between the city and the company. Davis continued his quest to please ATS by holding premium booth space at an upcoming North American Motor Officers Association conference.
"It will be a great opportunities for agencies across Canada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to put a face to ATS," Davis wrote in a June 9 email.
ATS was more interested in its impression on municipal government officials than the public at large. The company's strategy has been to use the courts to block referendum votes on automated enforcement. In Washington especially, red light cameras have proved unpopular.
"While we respect the initiative process in Washington, the law is clear that there are issues, including certain public safety issues that are not subject to the local initiative process," ATS salesman Ray Pedrosa wrote in an August 2 email to Davis. "In the interest of consistent implementation of public safety laws the legislature has made it clear that this issue must be decided by city councils and should not be delegated to the voters."
The firm moved to tighten its contract language to make it much harder to cancel the contract in the event that the company failed to block the public's access to the ballot. ATS Vice President Dan F. Hoven explained the changes the company wanted to its agreement with the city.
"We did not eliminate termination without cause in entirety though," Hoven wrote on June 25. "But, the key is that while there may be laws brought forth that challenge the use of cameras, ATS (and maybe the city) wants to have an opportunity to overturn the court order or legislation change. During that 'unlawful' period, the city would have no obligation to pay ATS, but we would ask that for any timeframe the cameras are not operational, that we be allowed to extend the term that same timeframe."
Instead of the termination clause, ATS agreed to insert a clause making the city's payments to ATS contingent on the program being funded in the city budget.
The emails also document a number of problems with the traffic cameras. On July 19, ATS employee Claudia Garibay notified Davis that ATS had issued a ticket to a car that stopped at a red light on June 29 -- most likely after the recipient called and complained. That same month, speed cameras were issuing tickets in school zones when they should not have been active, trapping motorists without notice that reduced speed limits were in effect.
"Hi there, this is regarding school photo enforcement this past week," Lynnwood Police Public Information Officer Shannon Sessions wrote in a June 25 email. "Along with the glitch on Friday -- listen to message -- there was also a small glitch on Tuesday: the flashers didn't go on at all."
After Davis sent notice, ATS dropped the tickets.
"I went through the events we captured last week and there were only a few events that were captured outside the enforcement times; I have rejected those events," Garibay wrote on June 27.