If it were going in the yearbook, it would get voted most likely to succeed and least popular.

Longview’s school zone speed camera program is here to stay, but a vocal contingent doesn’t think it’s a perfect system.

Police say the six photo-enforced 20 mph school zones are resulting in few repeat tickets, thus fewer speeders and a lower risk of injuring children. The numbers show as much: 92 percent of violators have received just one ticket.

But critics say the time-sensitive speed zones are a cash cow at best and unconstitutional at worst.

Though no scientific polling is available to ascertain exactly how many people in Longview do or do not support the speed-zone cameras, plenty of people are complaining.

Longview resident Bob Patterson picked up his second ticket in a different place than the first, and thinks there is no basis for an extension of government surveillance.

“If kids aren’t getting hurt, then putting those spy cameras up — how much can that add to children’s safety?” he said. “The only thing this is about is for raising money.”

One Longview woman has racked up four tickets from the school zones, but still supports the idea behind them. She said she thinks clearer signage and perhaps more flashing lights are needed. And maybe a sliding scale, instead of the consistent starting point of $144.

“The fine is pretty high, too, (whether) a person pays $50 or $144, they’re going to get the message,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name used. “Not sure why I don’t; well, I guess I do.”

One new resident was caught off-guard by the cameras.

“I had just moved to Longview, and the next day drove through a school zone at 1:30 in the afternoon, while children were in school,” Jessica Bruch said. “Every other place I have lived as a military wife does not have school zones all day, only before school starts and after it lets out. These cameras are a violation of our constitutional rights as it does not allow due process and does not confirm who is driving the car.”

City Attorney Jim McNamara said that while many people wish they could speak to an officer at the time of the ticket, due process is protected in that the ticket can be contested through the courts.

And the cameras are doing the job of police officers who just can’t be there, though parents and schools would like them to be, City Manager Bob Gregory said.

“My observation is the data speaks for itself,” Gregory said. “Since we started the program people have slowed down; it’s keeping the school zones safe for our kids.”

Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Deputy Nate Hockett said changes need to be made to bring the photo more in line with Constitutional protections, specifically requiring a photo of the driver to give probable cause. The law only allows photos of the vehicle and its plates. He hasn’t gotten a ticket, but has strong feelings on the issue.

“I don’t want speeders in school zones or red light runners either,” Hockett said, “but all the city is doing is revenuing.”

The city has a public safety fund that collects money from the tickets. Some of the fund pays American Traffic Solutions, which operates the cameras. Some pays for city costs such as lighting and heating buildings. The fund had a balance of $247,000 as of March 31, compared with $72,000 at the end of 2012.

Longview officials say the city plans to use some of that money to put up more signs around the school zones so drivers know better when and where to slow down.

The police department expects less and less money to come in as driving habits change and fewer tickets are issued.

Then again, there’s plenty of money out there that could eventually trickle in.

From a list of unpaid tickets obtained from the police department, two vehicles registered to the same names have racked up a combined $3,500, though most repeat offenders owe between $400 and $700.

The top 200 cars with outstanding tickets owe a total of $91,688.

If left unpaid, a few delinquent notices would go out, first from the police and then through district court, before getting sent to collections. So while not a jailable offense, it could turn into a credit-scarring one.

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Brooks Johnson covers Longview city government, Cowlitz PUD and Lower Columbia College for The Daily News. Reach him at 360-577-7828 or bjohnson@tdn.com.


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