Speed-cam van shown off in Gatewood, with an election underscore


That white van parked outside Gatewood Elementary School this morning did triple duty — helping bust speeders along Fauntleroy a few hours earlier, helping city leaders put drivers on notice, and underscoring a political point about a statewide ballot initiative you’ll be deciding between now and November 4th. Full details (including how the van works, plus video from this morning’s event, at which Gatewood Elementary’s principal spoke too), just ahead:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One person who wasn’t in attendance at this morning’s school-zone speed van show-and-tell outside Gatewood Elementary nonetheless loomed large: Prolific ballot-initiative backer Tim Eyman.

If his Initiative 985 (text) passes in the Nov. 4 election, cities wouldn’t get to keep any of the penalty proceeds from camera-enforcement programs like the speed van and red-light cams — not even to operate the programs; the money would go to a “congestion relief” fund set up by Eyman’s initiative.

That point as an underscore to today’s announcement didn’t overtly emerge till we asked a question about whether more vans were in the works. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske mentioned the initiative, though not by name/number.

According to Chief Kerlikowske, the city has opinion-poll results showing that more than 70 percent of citizens support speed-van/red-light-camera-type technology. But let’s back up to what this morning was all about. This van has actually been deployed around the city for a few months:


Portable signs are set up to warn you it’s ahead – like the one you see next to the van in this photo:


Its bright white flash in your rear-view mirror will let you know you’ve been photographed. During its pilot program, violators got a warning in the mail. But now, as announced this morning, if it’s on the job and you were speeding, the firm with which SPD contracts for the van will send you a citation that carries a 189-dollar fine. And it takes a pretty good picture, transmitted quickly to a computer terminal in the van:


The van will be deployed in various spots around the city, but this morning, as a prelude to the media event, it spent some time on the Fauntleroy side of Gatewood Elementary, as Sgt. Don Smith from SPD’s Traffic team explained that in a typical deployment, the van isn’t put into action immediately when the school-zone lights start flashing – a few minutes elapse, then the officer who’s running it checks that the warning lights for the school zone are on, then the van is fired up – and it’s shut down a few minutes before the official “when lights are flashing” time normally ends.

Minutes before Sgt. Smith demonstrated how the van works, the mayor had said this morning’s Fauntleroy stint netted a dozen citations, including that one for 45 mph (25 over the school-zone limited). He also side-noted a personal memory from Gatewood, meeting site of his Cub Scout troop, and yielded the podium to Gatewood principal Rhonda Claytor, who said the enforcement efforts send an important message to kids like her students, years before they themselves get behind the wheel.

Will you see the van elsewhere in West Seattle, given that it has an entire city to roam? Chief Kerlikowske says the department will work with school administrators and PTSAs to find out where to get the most bang for its … flash; however, according to the official news release about today’s announcement, the focus will be on eight schools that are part of the pilot project, including Gatewood and Schmitz Park elementaries.

By the way, the mayor and police chief were joined at this morning’s announcement by City Councilmember Nick Licata, who has made pedestrian safety a special emphasis of his work; he co-chairs the council’s Pedestrian Safety Committee.

Gatewood Elementary will be back in the citywide spotlight this Friday, for Earth Summit III, 9 am-3 pm; last year’s Earth Summit brought Nobel Prize recipient Wangari Maathai to West Seattle for a tree-planting celebration (WSB coverage here and here).

14 Replies to "Speed-cam van shown off in Gatewood, with an election underscore"

  • Nichole C. October 20, 2008 (2:52 pm)

    I honestly hope that these vans are to stay in school zones and other places where there are a lot of children. I don’t believe that the use of these van-cams will stay as innocent as their main use states, just like the cameras posted at every traffic light. I don’t like feeling like I have a big brother on my back when I’m not doing anything wrong. If they’re initial use is to stop speeding around kids or maybe even track pedofiles sulking around playgrounds, then that I can hop on board with. But I don’t appriciate an obvious tactic to drain out some more of my taxes to pay for one more thing that may or may not cause me legal trouble.

  • cjboffoli October 20, 2008 (3:31 pm)

    I can’t drive two miles in Seattle without seeing people doing selfish, unsafe, careless and ultimately illegal things on the road. The police cannot be everywhere. I see equipment like traffic cameras as a valuable enforcement tool and hardly worthy of Orwellian comparisons.
    Nichole: The notion that pedophiles are lurking around schoolyards (in creepy raincoats and dark glasses) is a paranoid delusion. In reality, greater than 85% of perpetrators who sexually abuse children are family members or people who are friends of the family.

  • Scott October 20, 2008 (3:55 pm)

    Speeding is not the only issue, start noticing folks that do the ‘ol California stop – if they stop at all. Many times they are not even looking to the right and YOU might be the bicyclist or pedestrian with really bad timing.
    But hey, they’ve got 3 seconds to cut you off and get in front you as you have the green light.
    A STOP sign is not a YIELD, or slow down and make that turn without looking! They’re different shapes and even look differently for a reason!

  • jm October 20, 2008 (4:19 pm)

    I fully agree with cjboffoli. People drive around here like they are the only ones on the road, the only ones in a hurry, the only ones late for work or whatever and they seem to have no regard for people around them. The times when I have seen the worst non-accident traffic violations … police are no where to be seen and these people get away with it. If you are a safe and legal driver who obeys traffic laws you don’t have any reason to even think about red-light or speeding cameras. If you are someone who drives through red lights because you’re in a hurry or you don’t care, drives 20+ miles over the speed limit, etc… you probably need big brother watching you. These enforcement tools are there to hopefully safe lives… one can hardly complain about that.

  • PSPS October 20, 2008 (6:03 pm)

    I am categorically opposed to this for one reason: I do not want any “firm with which SPD contracts” having anything to do with me or my city when it comes to law enforcement. The profit motive makes this nothing more than a “profit center” for some politically-connected crony. What’s next? Hiring Blackwater goons to augment the cops on the beat?
    Get the cops out of the donut shop (you should see the collection of squad cars every morning at the donut shop on 4th north of Lander) and out doing their jobs.

  • GB October 20, 2008 (8:07 pm)

    “Cops out of the donut shop?’ That’s rude. Spend a shift in a squad car and see what they really do it’s hard work. Police don’t need your snarky comments, they deserve support.

  • KYHOML October 21, 2008 (6:31 am)

    People can be reliably counted on to trade freedom for safety. As PSPS points out – this is not done by the police – it is a private contractor carrying out a police function – welcome to Baghdad.
    A police officer is a public employee and accountable to the public. An officer, in the vast majority of cases, can be counted on to use discretion about who represents a true menace.
    These machines are about revenue generation, not safety. They shouldn’t be employed at the expense of officers. We pay the highest taxes in the country, we should get the best police service. This is not it.

  • Hate snarky comments October 21, 2008 (9:45 am)


    So where do you take your breaks that your employer is required by law to provide you?

    Hope someone doesn’t catch you on break doing something remotely stereotypical.

  • And another thing October 21, 2008 (9:48 am)

    Ever have a meeting in a squad car? “Donut” shops, cafes, coffee shops etc are providing our police a service.

  • WSB October 21, 2008 (9:52 am)

    I can recall a few stories from my TV days where police were on the scene of, say, a bank robbery within seconds because officers had been taking a break at a coffee shop nearby. In fact, within the past few years, I believe one such case involved the Washington Federal bank at Fauntleroy/California and officers who were either at the kitty-corner Starbucks or maybe Caffe Ladro a few blocks up (popular nighttime break spot, in our anecdotal observation, fire guys/gals there sometimes too) – TR

  • add October 21, 2008 (9:54 am)

    Article in today’s PI quotes Mayor Nickels as saying something like “kids shouldn’t feel like the most challenging part of their day is walking to school, they should be worried about the WASL”. Ugh! How about, the most challenging part of their day should be about learning and getting a good education rather than “worrying” about some stupid test!

  • WSB October 21, 2008 (9:59 am)

    I have that on video (having been at the same news conference as the citywide media, how convenient that it was held two minutes down the hill from WSB HQ) but it seemed more like a misspeak to me … a line that somebody wrote, and it looked good on paper, but fell flat in person, didn’t really have a home for it in this story. In fact, I didn’t use a mayor soundbite at all in this, come to think about it. Just turned out that the police chief and principal had better bites that made more sense in the flow.

  • cjboffoli October 21, 2008 (10:11 am)

    One of the funniest news items I’ve ever read, from last year or the year before, was an incident down on South Rainier Blvd. in which a vagrant drove off in a doughnut truck that the driver had left idling while he was making a wholesale delivery. Multiple police units responded to the call. The thief apparently had a pretty good head start on the pursuers. But the police were aided by the fact that the back doors of the van were not latched and tray after tray of doughnuts were tumbling all over the road in a fairly consistent trail. Police caught the guy (who was drunk and claimed he only took the van because it was cold out and he wanted to warm up). But just the image of a doughnut truck careering down South Rainier Boulevard with police cars in pursuit was something right out of a classic Mack Sennett two-reeler.

  • Donuts for all October 21, 2008 (10:17 am)


    “hanging out” at local spots also give the police and the public a place to interact that is none threatening and can give extra facetime to problem areas

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