4 DeKalb cities say school district is stonewalling traffic camera effort

Local police departments want to install automatic traffic cameras at school zones
RedSpeed USA installs school zone speed cameras. (Courtesy In-Cyprus)

RedSpeed USA installs school zone speed cameras. (Courtesy In-Cyprus)

Several DeKalb County cities complained that the county’s school district is holding up an effort to install automatic traffic cameras at school zones.

However, the school district said it wants to make sure the cities aren’t using the guise of child safety to pad their budgets.

Police chiefs from Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and Dunwoody complained that the school board and Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris are ignoring their requests to install automatic traffic cameras. They sent a joint letter in November requesting the ability to install the cameras, but they have not heard back.

The DeKalb County School District told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they received the cities’ letter but want to make sure the cities aren’t motivated by extra revenue from traffic tickets.

“Safety can only be achieved through an equal partnership with local law enforcement to ensure decisions about where Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) is conducted are equitably and fairly made throughout DeKalb County,” the district said in a statement. “Thereby ensuring the initiative is more than a revenue-generating tool.”

At a Monday news conference, Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan emphasized that the camera program would increase safety near schools and denied allegations that they’re motivated by money.

“The police department is never about raising revenue,” Grogan said. “I mean, that’s a byproduct of some of our enforcement efforts — there has to be a penalty of a consequence — but it’s not the reason that we do what we do.”

A new law in 2018 allowed local police departments to install automatic traffic cameras in school zones to try to deter speeding. Cities and counties have to get school board approval before they can proceed with installing cameras, which photograph license plates and issue tickets to speeders.

The cities said they’ve discussed this program with the county school board since 2019, including conducting their own traffic studies. Those studies, conducted by each city except for Doraville, found that hundreds to thousands of drivers go more than 10 miles over the speed limit in school zones each day.

Grogan said the school district hasn’t provided a clear reason for opposing — or ignoring — the cities’ request. He said the only questions they’ve presented the city have surrounded whether the program would disproportionately affect people of color, which he said wouldn’t be the case.

“It’s an automated system that doesn’t detect (skin color),” Grogan said. “It’s probably the least biased of any system because it’s not a person — it doesn’t detect the race of the person that you’re trying to pull over.”

Grogan and the other police chiefs argued the program would help free up police officers to patrol other parts of their respective cities during school hours.

He also said several Gwinnett County cities have seen the number of speeders decline since implementing automatic traffic camera programs. The joint letter said speeding incidents in Snellville school zones have declined up to 86%, and repeat offenders in Duluth and Lilburn are down between 6% and 10%.

All four cities said they’re ready to move forward with installing the cameras, using the same vendor: RedSpeed USA. Due to the delay, Grogan said it would likely take half a year to get these programs off the ground if they get approval from the school district.

“Their inaction has jeopardized the safety of students in and around the schools in these cities,” Dunwoody police said in a news release.