2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Decision on restarting Cedar Rapids speed cameras coming soon

Automated cameras survive vows of lawmakers to alter or ban them

Traffic winds May 17, 2018, through the S-curve through downtown Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380. Cedar Rapids police say they struggle to patrol the section, which has limited shoulders for pulling over vehicles. But the automated speed cameras on both ends of the curve have not been issuing tickets for two years now. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Traffic winds May 17, 2018, through the S-curve through downtown Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380. Cedar Rapids police say they struggle to patrol the section, which has limited shoulders for pulling over vehicles. But the automated speed cameras on both ends of the curve have not been issuing tickets for two years now. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Days after the weekend adjournment of the 2019 legislative session, Cedar Rapids officials are planning to move forward with restarting the automated interstate speed camera program and hiring more police officers.

City officials had considered turning the cameras back on last fall and using the ticket revenue to hire 10 police officers. But they waited as the session played out.

Lawmakers were debating whether to ban or strictly regulate such camera programs around the state, but adjourned Saturday without deciding — the seventh consecutive year they’re tried but failed to come up with statewide plan.

“I don’t have an exact day, but within the next 30 days we plan to present an ordinance to City Council for consideration,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said in a telephone interview Monday. “It doesn’t mean it will be turned on right away.”

The interstate speed cameras have been off — while red-light cameras continue — since a court fight in early 2017.

In previous interviews, a majority of the nine City Council members had said they support resuming the traffic camera program.

A grace period of two weeks to a month, as well as a publicity effort, is expected before ticketing speeders resumes.

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Iowa House Public Safety Committee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said last week he expects the issue to be back before the Legislature for an eighth time in 2020, especially if Cedar Rapids resumes its program.

“That will get more people engaged,” he said.

Klein had proposed regulating the cameras with the state scooping 60 percent of the revenue after expenses for statewide public safety and emergency management services. Others have sought an outright ban, and still others have preferred regulation with revenues staying with the cities. Lawmakers can’t decide

Automated traffic enforcement devices are used in 10 Iowa cities, but the Cedar Rapids program, which enforces speed limits on the winding Interstate 380 S-curve through downtown, is the most prolific and has attracted the most ire from lawmakers.

Cedar Rapids police say they struggle to patrol the section, which has limited shoulders for pulling over vehicles.

“If they turn the cameras back on, they darn well better make sure people know they are turned back on, make sure there is education and make sure people know the process for appealing and paying for the tickets,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, who supports stricter regulations on the traffic cameras.

She said she has doubts whether enough political will exists to address the cameras next year in the Legislature. She said she wants to see what the data shows about safety.

The four I-380 camera locations have been off since a Polk County District Court ruling in April 2017. The I-380 cameras had been issuing the vast majority of the 150,000-plus tickets the program sees annually.

Des Moines, which also was part of that lawsuit, restored its cameras shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court allowed it. But Cedar Rapids has been more cautious.

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The city forecasts the cameras will generate $4.7 million in fiscal 2020, which begins July 1. Proceeds would fund 10 new police officers and a new administrative position to help process the tickets, as well as $1.7 million to Sensys Gatso USA Inc, a Beverly, Mass.-based traffic camera vendor.

The city also is proposing creating a municipal infraction process to strengthen the appeals process in accordance with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling. Some have expressed concern the new process could overwhelm the courts, but it is unclear how it actually would play out.

If the ordinance passes, the police department is expected to extend offers to new officers quickly and then send the 10 at one time to police academy training.

The city already faces the prospect of annual budget adjustments based on legislative actions, so this will be treated the same way, Pomeranz said.

“We are very conscious of the fact dollars should be used for public safety purposes,” he said. “Every legislative session there’s different kinds of challenges put before us in terms of city revenue streams. We have operated conservatively, and if we need to make adjustments, we will at that time. We can’t not act because of what the Legislature might do down the road. I think public safety is paramount and therefore we are prepared to move forward.”

The recruitment process for officer positions was conducted from Nov. 2, 2018 to Jan. 10, and the applicants have subsequently completed a written examination, physical qualification test, polygraph, psychological examination, background checks and interviews as part of the recruitment process, said Greg Buelow, the public safety spokesman.

The Civil Service Commission will need to certify the list of police officers and police Chief Wayne Jerman can then extend employment offers based on the number of openings.

“The police department already had some vacancies to fill, so the additional 10 officers could be selected from this certified list,” Buelow said.

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

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