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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council wants more data on radar camera effectiveness as police receive new equipment

A Spokane Police Department Ford Police Interceptor in 2014.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane Police Department is having trouble finding a way to present data to support expanding a program that allows officers to track motorists’ speed with 12 new dashboard-mounted, speed-measuring cameras .

The Spokane City Council unanimously approved funding for a dozen new radar guns last week.

The police department has had about eight for the past decade.

But the department has not maintained data that shows how many tickets were issued using the dashboard mounted cameras as opposed to tickets issued after the speeders were caught with traditional radar guns.

From Jan. 1 to June 23 of this year, Spokane police issued 720 speeding tickets, said Julie Humphreys, Spokane Police Department spokeswoman, a combination of speeders caught by dashboard cameras and radar guns.

“Our traffic unit was absorbed into patrol at the beginning of January this year so the numbers in 2023 reflect traffic tickets issued by patrol officers during their regular shifts and while attending to other calls for service,” Humphreys said.

The project will cost nearly $49,000 for installation.

The push behind the cameras is to help catch someone speeding without an officer having to hold a radar gun. The department hopes the change will reduce stress on officers.

Spokane police officials say the department is understaffed and does not have enough officers for speed patrolling.

Money for the cameras will come from fines issued to speeding drivers captured by automatic traffic safety cameras in town. The proposal was presented to the City Council by Abigail Martin, community programs coordinator for the city.

An 18-month pilot will be used to determine if the additional radar guns are effective.

As of now, however, police are unable to calculate how many tickets are given with existing radar guns unless entered manually.

“We would have to go through incident by incident and pull those comments out and somehow translate them,” police Maj. Michael McNab said during a City Council briefing session last week.

“This is a lot of detailed information that we don’t have a really good mechanism to gather right now,” McNab said.

The City Council urged the department to find a way to provide data from the radar guns to determine the success rate. Council members are worried they will not receive the data they want.

“I fear we might not get the information if we are not clear in the beginning,” City Councilman Zack Zappone said Monday.

Councilman Michael Cathcart said the unavailability of data isn’t unique to catching speeders.

“This isn’t specific to PD, but the city, you know data collection is something we struggle with across the board in a lot of ways,” Cathcart said during briefing session. “I almost wonder if we should set up some internal work group that’s just focused on how do we make our data collection and analysis more robust.”

Despite there not being a system to collect the data, the City Council is in support for the dashboard cameras and hope that they will help make Spokane safer.

“This is a program our neighborhood supported with great enthusiasm, and the difference between 20 mph and 30 mph when a child is hit means injuries versus death,” Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

The resolution was amended last week to include a requirement of data to show effectiveness of the speed cameras.

Humphreys said the department wants to be able to figure out a way to get the City Council the information they want.

“We always seek to provide data,” Humphreys said. “We’re always trying to improve our system, and if we have data that backs that up or shows that something is effective or not effective then that allows us to adjust our practices so we can be providing the best public safety possible.”

Police are confident that even without a system, the speed cameras will prove to be useful.

“We’re going to know to some degree right away if we have 12 additional moving radars in cars and we are writing a lot more tickets than we were the month before when we only had eight of those devices,” Humphreys said.

Samantha Fuller's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.