Monthly Archives: August 2011

Red light cameras: ‘A local tax on law-breakers?’

Are red light cameras simply a way to levy a tax on people who break the law? 

Douglas Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University, stakes this claim on his blog.

More than 500 cities — including Bremerton — in 25 states now use them, according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Critics argue that governments are just using them to make money, they’re a sign of Big Brother and they don’t improve safety.

But here’s Berman’s take:

“Assuming the data reported here on lives saved is accurate (a big if), I am inclined to be a vocal advocate for greater use of red-light cameras.  Indeed, as long as these cameras do not increase traffic accidents, I still favor a policy that raises revenue through what is essentially a local tax on law-breakers.

Especially if monies collected from traffic violations properly recorded by red-light camera are used on other public safety fronts, these cameras seem to me to be a win-win for all fans of utilitarian approaches to crime and punishment.  Or, dear readers, am I missing something important in this roadway safety cost/benefit analysis?”

I suggest you check out the comments section to see some interesting dialogue.

My colleague Steven Gardner posted the stats of Bremerton’s revenue from red light tickets on the Kitsap Caucus blog. Here are the numbers:

In 2010 Bremerton took in $685,232 in revenue for red-light cameras. The money sent to Redflex Inc, the Arizona company that runs the system, was $443,639. That gets us $241,593 for the year. In 2009 Andy Parks, former financial services director, said it cost the city about $7,500 a month in staff time to run the program. I can only assume now that the figure came from paying for the officers to look at the ticket and estimating the extra cost it takes to run each infraction through the municipal court system. That’s $90,000 a year. So if that accounts for all the city takes in, the annual net income for Bremerton in 2010 would have been $151,593.

The cameras do seem to improve safety at intersections that have them, according to The Insurance Industry for Highway Safety. From a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article Berman cited, “a study showed a 24 percent decline in fatalities from red-light running in cities where the cameras are used, and reductions of 40 to 96 percent in violations.  It has estimated that 150 lives were saved over five years in the 14 biggest cities that use them.”

I fully realize this is a debate that goes on and on (and on and on). But Berman’s argument — that red light cameras are a law breaker’s tax deserves attention in its own right. Anyone find merit in it?

Lawsuit: Acupuncturist ‘punctured plaintiff’s right lung’

Blogger’s note: This is the latest case in our ongoing series here at the blog showcasing suits filed in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

An April lawsuit alleges an acupuncturist at a North Kitsap clinic punctured a woman’s right lung “causing severe physical injury and conscious pain and suffering,” according to documents filed in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

The lawsuit says the woman was getting treatment in April 2010 when the incident occurred. The suit seeks compensation for medical care, attorney’s fees, general damages, and other damages the court deems just and equitable.

In response to the suit, lawyers for the acupuncturist deny the allegations, and also claim the patient plaintiff had signed a consent and release form, assuming the risk of injury. The case is ongoing in superior court.

Smile in that license photo — now, cops can see it in their patrol cars

It’s not always easy for the police around here to identify a suspect, particularly a shifty one. But a new tool, made possible by grant funding, makes it a little easier.

Cops often have trouble figuring out who someone is, particularly if they don’t provide any identification on them (or they do, but it’s bogus). They’ve long had to rely on a physical description for such folks, and that doesn’t always mean they’re able to successfully figure out who they are.

A pot of $300,000 later, and now everyone’s mug — at least those of us with Washington state driver’s licenses — is available to a police officer in his or her patrol car’s onboard computer.

Officials are quick to tout the potential benefits. A person who successfully lies about their identity could be covering up the fact they have a warrant for their arrest, for instance. The system should be in place for most law enforcement agencies around the state by November.

Here’s the full press release from the Washington State Patrol:

(Olympia) – A common practice for a criminal when asked by the police for their name is to use a false one. But, it just got easier for police to confirm a suspect’s real identity.

Previously, police officers had to rely on text descriptions of physical characteristics to make a positive identification. New computer capabilities now give police throughout Washington the ability to retrieve driver license photos.  Police can use their in-car computer to quickly and efficiently confirm the identity of the people they contact.

“This is about catching bad guys who are trying to deceive us by using fake names,” said State Patrol Chief John Batiste. “We are now able to quickly determine the real identity of these people.”

A $300,000 grant through the State, Regional and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System (SRFERS) project and from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA) has made it possible for police officers to quickly confirm an individual’s identity with a copy of a Department of Licensing photo.

“The WATPA board members were convinced that providing this new technology to officers in the field would aid in the preservation of public safety and in the apprehension of offenders including those who engage in auto theft,” said Don Pierce, WATPA Chair. “We are extremely pleased with the results of this grant program.”

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office is the first agency in the state to have the ability to view DOL photos through the State Patrol’s A Central Computerized Enforcement Service System (ACCESS).  Most law enforcement agencies in Washington will have the capability to view driver license photos through ACCESS by November, 2011.

“We are very thankful for this emerging technology.  Our office has been progressive in keeping up with ever changing technology and utilizing it to keep our community safe,” said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield.

“Having DOL pictures instantaneously will help us in a lot of ways, including identifying people for criminal investigations, traffic stops, hit and run collisions, and helping identify missing or lost people,” he explained.

The grant funding by SRFERS gave many states outside of Washington including, Oregon and Idaho the ability to share driver license photos through the ACCESS system.  The funding by WATPA gave police agencies from around the state the same ability to use the system to quickly retrieve a copy of a driver’s license photo and make positive identification.

The ACCESS system is managed and operated by the WSP’s Criminal Records Division and is designed to give law enforcement the ability to query multiple state and national databases as a tool in the administration of criminal justice. 

Kitsap’s prosecutors won’t take on Pierce County detective’s threat case

The Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, asked to review alleged threats made by a Pierce County Sheriff’s detective to a Pierce County deputy prosecutor, has declined to file charges, according to an article in the Tacoma News Tribune.

The News Tribune quoted a letter sent by Kitsap County’s Chief of Case Management Ione George:

“Under the law, we cannot file criminal charges just because we believe that a person committed a crime,” George wrote. “Rather, we must be able to prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. After reviewing this case, I have concluded that our office could not meet that burden of proof.”

The circumstances of the threat are rather bizarre. Check out the story when you get a chance.

Followup: Copper continues to be popular with thieves

Given the high cost of copper these days, it’s not surprising that if thieves are willing to go into an electricity substation, they’ll definitely take some from empty or vacant homes. 

That’s the experience relayed to me recently by reader Janice, who saw first hand the voracity of thieves to purloin the stuff. Here’s what she told me:

“I saw on your blog that you were seeking stories of people that had been victims of this crime. We are in the process of buying a home in the South Colby area that is currently unoccupied. Yesterday, we went to the home and our daughter found the door unlocked. Upon closer inspection we saw that the door had been pried open. After locating the owner of the home, we went in and didn’t see anything damaged or missing. As we were leaving the house, the current owner discovered the exposed copper pipe in the garage and been cut on one end (inside the drywall) and broken off at the other.

The pipe taken was about 15 feet long. The home does have a lot of copper piping, luckily most of it was not exposed as it is under the house in a small crawl space.

From the media reports, sounds like most of these thefts are involving wiring, I’m wondering if our experience is a common one. The owner did tell us a few weeks prior he approached someone walking around the outside of the home late in the evening. When he explained the house was almost sold, the stranger quickly left the property. We now wonder if this could have been the thief.”

Anyone else have stories to share? Remember, if you believe you’re seeing this kind of theft or have been a victim of it, report it to your local police department.

Lawsuit: Defendant dentist ‘extracted teeth that did not require extraction’

Blogger’s note: This is the latest case in our ongoing series here at the blog showcasing suits filed in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

A local woman has filed a lawsuit alleging a wide range of indiscretions against a Kitsap County dentist, including that he “extracted teeth that did not require extraction,” and crowned the woman’s two front teeth with porcelain crowns “that dramatically increased their size,” according to documents filed in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

The suit, filed in late July, says the woman was getting dental work as part of the creation of a partial denture. But the lawyer representing the woman says the dentist took out teeth that could have been saved, made crowns and fillings that later fell out and caused her pain stemming from procedures he conducted in 2008. The woman had to go on pain medication as a result as well, the lawsuit says.

For such “outrageous and extreme conduct,” the plaintiffs are seeking “treble” damages for the costs and disbursements of the procedures, interest and attorney’s fees, as well as “further relief the court deems just.”

Bainbridge parents take to Facebook to stop teen drunken driving

Some Bainbridge Islanders have formed a Facebook page in response to a likely DUI crash on Bainbridge a few weeks back, and the outpouring of community support for it is quite impressive.

Dubbed, “Won’t Ask, Won’t Tell,” the page aims to provide teens a place they can look for phone numbers of adults who will give them a ride home, regardless of whether intoxicants were involved.

Here’s how the founders describe the site:

“We want everyone in our island community to be safe. We want teens in our community to know that whenever they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation involving alcohol, drugs and driving – or potential date abuse – they can call any one of us – or text – anytime, and we pledge to come and get you and take you home. We won’t ask you why, and we won’t tell your parents. We just want you to be safe.”

More than 700 people had already hit the like button on the page and the list of phone numbers is quite lengthy. Stories about it have also appeared in the island’s Review and on KOMO.

I’m curious to know how people are feeling about such an effort. Do you think it could spread elsewhere?

Another unsolved homicide uncovered

When we created a database of unsolved homicides covering the last half-century, we knew of the chance that we might miss a case. 

Looks like we’ve found one.

His name is Matthew Evans. He was just 20 years old when his body was found on a Saturday morning in August 1993 along Old Clifton Road.

Whether his death was an accident or homicide was subject to some controversy at the time. Apparently Evans had been chased from a party and may have been struck by a car on accident. But I called Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom, who told me his death is indeed classified as a homicide, and a local pathologist at the time reported it appeared his wound actually came from a being hit with a metal object.

Evans will be added to our unsolved homicide database, bringing the number of unsolved deaths in the past 51 years to 31.

And why did we create an unsolved homicide database? In short, for posterity.

Last year,  we poured over death investigation lists from the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office, the state and our local law enforcement agencies. When new cases came along or if one was uncovered, we decided we’d continually add and edit it.

After we wrote a story about the tragic May death — and still unsolved murder — of 19-year-old Sara Burke more than three months ago, we added Burke to our database.

Thanks to a reader, we’ll post another.

“Could the death of Matt Evans be added to your cold case list? Matt’s death in 1993 was suspicious and I do not believe was ever solved (not sure if it was ever officially considered a homicide),” a reader wrote to me in an email.

After some digging, it was pretty clear the case should be added.

It is with hope that one day, we’ll not only add or edit the list — but subtract from it too.

Metal thieves swindling Kitsap, North Mason utilities

A spate of metal thefts from local utility districts — and really anyone else with a stockpile of copper — is once again plaguing the Kitsap Peninsula.

Crooks are hitting the same Puget Sound Energy substations multiple times in some instances. The trend doesn’t seem to be unique to Kitsap, however, as many communities around North America are grappling with it.

I’ll have a story in an upcoming edition of the Kitsap Sun detailing this recurring and damaging trend. In the meantime, check out a photo of this thief inside Mason County PUD No. 3’s Collins Lake substation.

UPDATE: Here’s the story I ended up writing.

If you’ve had an experienced getting ripped off of metal, I’d like to hear from you. Drop a note to