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Legislature wants to expand use of traffic cameras

The key to solving Nicole Westbrook's murder might have been found in video from a nearby red light camera, but state law prevented police from accessing the footage. (Image courtesy Seattle Police)

It's been nine months since 21-year-old Nicole Westbrook was gunned-down at random in Pioneer Square, and police still have no suspects. All they have is bad surveillance video from a nearby business showing the killer's car driving away.

The key to solving her murder might have been found in video from a nearby red light camera, but state law prevented police from accessing the footage.

It's too late to use that footage to help find Nicole Westbrook's killer, but a bill in Olympia would give police the ability to use traffic cameras to help catch the next killer.

"They believe with this bill if they could have accessed the footage and used the footage in the trial they could have actually solved Nicole Westbrook's murder," state representative Cathy Dahlquist said.

The Republican from the 31st District put the bill forward at the request of prosecutors across the state. Right now, traffic cameras, like red light cameras or speed zone cameras, can only be used to write tickets.

"They don't have the ability, with a search warrant, to access that footage," Rep. Dahlquist said. "We're funding these red light cameras with public dollars, right, with public tax dollars. I think for public safety purposes they can be used to solve a crime, granting that access to prosecutors and police so they can bring someone to justice is really a wise use of the equipment and taxpayer dollars."

But privacy advocates worry this bill will push Washington closer to a "surveillance society." They are worried that this change would open the door to allowing camera footage to be used for other purposes.

Dahlquist doesn't believe it will. "It's not an invasion of privacy when you have to obtain a search warrant," she said, and she wants opponents to put themselves in the shoes of a crime victim. "When you're the victim of a crime, any accessible information that can be legally obtained to solve that crime, you're going to want to have happen."

This bill has its first public hearing in the legislature Wednesday afternoon.

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