Government

Speed camera ticket errors force Cedar Rapids police to step up review process

Dozen tickets wrongly issued since traffic cameras turned back on after hiatus

Traffic on Dec. 21, 2016, travels past the automated speed camera northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic on Dec. 21, 2016, travels past the automated speed camera northbound on Interstate 380 at J Avenue in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Police Department vows to step up reviews of automated traffic camera tickets before they are issued to speeders and red-light runners after a “processing error” led to a dozen citations being sent that should not have.

The police department last week acknowledged and apologized for one ticket sent in error. A review later discovered 12 in all were sent and one additional errant ticket was caught by a Cedar Rapids police officer. A police officer is expected to review and certify the accuracy of each automated camera ticket before issuance.

“The police department and Sensys Gatso (the vendor that operates the cameras) are taking corrective action to minimize, reduce, and hopefully eliminate any mistakes in the future,” said Greg Buelow, a public safety spokesman. “Both the Cedar Rapids Police Department and Sensys Gatso are creating an additional check to ensure citations are not sent out unless vehicles are traveling 12 mph or more” above the speed limit.

“Staff will do a daily check of all citations specifically looking for any citations for under 12 mph,” he added.

Automated traffic enforcement tickets are supposed to go to the registered owners of vehicles traveling at least 12 mph over the speed limit, per police department policy.

In the case of Interstate 380 where the majority of the tickets are issued, a vehicle would have to be traveling at least 67 mph in the 55 mph zone to get a ticket.

The city has four traffic camera locations on I-380 and five at intersections in town.

The errant tickets were issued for vehicles traveling between 5 and 10 mph above the speed limit — below the threshold for the tickets, which start at $75, Buelow said.

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It’s not exactly clear how the errant tickets slipped through the cracks. Buelow noted police don’t have evidence of this type of error occurring previously, and don’t believe any additionally errant tickets are lingering out in the public. People can contest a ticket if they believe it was sent in error, he said.

Sensys Gatso analyzed the issue and verified the equipment had not failed, Buelow said.

“It was a processing error in that violations for less than 12 mph went through the system and were forwarded to the police department,” Buelow said. “Then the violations were erroneously approved by an officer.”

Buelow said an officer reviews the date, time, location, vehicle information and registration information, the speed of the vehicle or whether a red light violation occurred to decide whether a citation should be approved and issued. The review can include an analysis of photographs and video, he added.

The length of time per review varies based on how long it takes to look over each of the data points, he said. The number of tickets reviewed per day also varies based on the volume of tickets forwarded by Sensys Gatso, Buelow said.

In February, a “best estimate (of) around one minute per citation approval” was provided in response to a question from a citizen.

The traffic camera program, which issues hundreds of tickets per day generating millions in revenue, was restarted at the beginning of July after a more than two-year hiatus amid largely unsuccessful legal challenges.

City officials point to data suggesting the cameras have made the roads safer by reducing speeds and crashes, while critics continue to bash it as a moneymaking scheme that unevenly penalizes different drivers.

The city projects in the first year back online the cameras will generate $4.7 million, which will be used to hire 10 new officers and an administrator to process legal challenges.

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In the most recent full year of camera tickets, 2016, the cameras issued 148,717 violations, which was the most in the state. Through just the first four days of July, which is the most current data, the cameras had issued 5,074 tickets for speeding and red-light running.

The cameras are far more prolific in flagging violators than humans.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department wrote 1,739 speeding citations and 763 disobediences to a traffic control device, such as a traffic light or stop sign, citywide in all of 2018. The traffic division, which includes six officers, writes most of the tickets, Buelow said.

Other types of errors have occurred in the past, such as when 4,800 violation notices were mistakenly sent out threatening people’s credit scores in September 2016, which the Iowa Attorney General’s Office had previously said violated the law.

“As with any process where there is a human element, mistakes can happen despite our best efforts to prevent them,” Buelow said. “This is why there is a mechanism in place for registered owners to contest citations.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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