BREMERTON — State lawmakers are still considering allowing images from red-light cameras to be used in investigations beyond red-light infractions, but Bremerton police have already done it while working on one high-profile case.
Images taken by a red-light camera were used in a police investigation of the 2011 stabbing death of Sara Burke, The Kitsap Sun reported Friday (http://is.gd/DtOAiT).
Multiple officials, including the Bremerton city attorney and the county prosecutor, declined to comment Friday.
The copy of the warrant arrived in the mail to the Kitsap Sun newspaper on Friday in an envelope with no return address. Bremerton City Clerk Shannon Corin confirmed a copy of a warrant issued for Redflex video images for a murder investigation was released in response to a public-document request.
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Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan, who took helm at the department last month, said Friday was the first he had heard of the issue and he wanted to look into it more before commenting.
The warrant was signed by Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen.
Bremerton began using red-light cameras in 2008.
The Legislature gave cities and counties the ability to use traffic-enforcement cameras in 2005. The law stipulates that images from the cameras can only be used to enforce red-light, railroad-crossing and school speed-zone violations. The law also states that images are only to be of the vehicle and the license of the vehicle in violation.
Now, lawmakers are considering a measure to allow local traffic-enforcement or photo-toll camera footage to be used the way Bremerton already did in 2011. House Bill 1047 made it through the House with a 78-18 vote.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, told the House Public Safety Committee on Jan. 23 that images from red-light cameras might have helped Seattle police identify suspects in the Pioneer Square drive-by shooting death of Nicole Westbrook in April 2012. Surveillance footage from nearby buildings was accessed, but police could not get footage from traffic cameras.
“This bill is not too late to help the next victim. We need to help bring justice to the victims of these horrible crimes,” Dahlquist said.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg called the restriction from using traffic-enforcement images to investigate other crimes a “curious anomaly,” and that changing the law would not make the cameras a general surveillance tool because it would require law enforcement to get a warrant to review the footage.
“What an amazing investigative tool this could be for police to immediately look at the sure cams and try to find a car and a picture of the license plate of the shooter’s car,” he said of the Westbrook case.
Shankar Narayan, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said red-light cameras are already taking videos that show images including occupants of the vehicle, which runs afoul of the current law, which stipulates “the picture must not reveal the face of the driver or of passengers in the vehicle.”
Burke’s homicide remains unsolved.