Government

Cedar Rapids to deploy new speed camera in work, school zones

Tickets will be automatically generated and mailed to vehicle owners

The Cedar Rapids City Council chamber at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The Cedar Rapids City Council chamber at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday approved a new type of speed camera for school and work zones.

Council members approved an amendment of a contract with Gatso USA, the city’s Beverly, Mass.-based traffic camera vendor, to authorize the acquisition of a DragonCam. The camera will be set up in the passenger seat of an officer’s squad car to capture speeders.

“It’s a way for us to enforce laws using state-of-the-art technology,” Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “There are areas we can’t do effective enforcement like school zones and construction zones, places where it is difficult to have an officer make a stop in a squad car.”

The hope is the DragonCam is an effective tool to overcome that challenge, he said.

The matter gained unanimous approval as part of the consent agenda, which includes a variety of routine business items deemed non-controversial.

The DragonCam is operated like other automated traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids that work to detect motorists who speed or run red lights.

The traffic camera will capture pictures of speeders and then automatically generate tickets that are mailed to the vehicles’ registered owner after approval by a Cedar Rapids police officer. The tickets will be a civil fine and won’t affect a motorist’s driving record.

Motorists can appeal through an administrative process followed by District Court, according to city policies.

Gatso will provide the camera at no cost to the city, but Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Mike Wallerstedt said it is not certain how soon the camera will be delivered and put into operation.

Given the camera could be used in low-speed areas, such as school zones, the city could opt to set a lower threshold than 12 mph above the speed limit as that which triggers a ticket, he said.

Senior officials will need to confer about the speed and cost of the ticket, he added.

Automated traffic camera ticket fines have started at $75 with the city taking two-thirds of the amount and Gatso getting one-third. If the city set a lower speed threshold, the fine might be lowered to $50, in which case the city and Gatso would take a 50-50 split, Wallerstedt said.

The addition of the speed camera comes at a time when many of the fixed camera locations in Cedar Rapids are under fire thanks to several lawsuits.

The Iowa Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a case of Marla Leaf, who received a $75 automated traffic camera ticket in Cedar Rapids, and a Polk County District Court judge sided with the Iowa Department of Transportation in its authority to order off cameras on Interstate 380 and the westbound speed detection portion of a camera at the intersection of First Avenue and 10th Street East.

Those cameras are no longer issuing tickets pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, collecting traffic camera fines has been increasingly challenging after the Iowa Attorney General forbid unpaid tickets being used against a person’s credit score, in effect removing the teeth behind the tickets.

City officials, who say the cameras are about safety not money, want to tap into a state program to help recover the $17.1 million in unpaid fines. The state’s offset program withholds gambling winnings and tax refunds to pay debts.

The City Council approved the second of three readings to use the offset program and to charge a 25 percent late penalty, during Tuesday’s meeting.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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