Public Safety

Parked and unmarked, speed camera car cites scores of motorists in Cedar Rapids

Police say mobile camera is deployed in response to complaints from the public

This photo from the Cedar Rapids Police Department shows a white Chevrolet Malibu that drivers might see parked around town. An automated speed camera is mounted on the car’s dashboard. In a two-month period after the city’s automated traffic program restarted this summer, 224 tickets have been generated by the car’s mobile camera. (Cedar Rapids Police Department)
This photo from the Cedar Rapids Police Department shows a white Chevrolet Malibu that drivers might see parked around town. An automated speed camera is mounted on the car’s dashboard. In a two-month period after the city’s automated traffic program restarted this summer, 224 tickets have been generated by the car’s mobile camera. (Cedar Rapids Police Department)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When Cedar Rapids flipped back on its automated traffic cameras this summer after a hiatus, 224 of the speeding tickets so far have come not from within the interstate and city street segments that warn drivers they are “photo enforced” to catch speeders and red-light runners — but from a featureless white Chevrolet Malibu parked around town.

The city’s controversial traffic camera program was reinstated June 1 after years of litigation. After a grace period during which only warnings were issued, police began July 1 to issue tickets generated by the cameras for speeding and red-light violations.

In just shy of two months — July 1 to Aug. 29 — the city’s overall traffic camera enforcement program has generated 24,387 citations for speeding and 298 for red-light running.

For some drivers, redeployment of the mobile camera might come as a surprise. But the police department said the city’s announcement about restarting the program included all traffic-monitoring cameras — whether they are perched on signs above Interstate 380, mounted by intersections or watching from the dash of an unmarked, stationary Malibu.

Before the white Malibu, a red Jeep Cherokee held the mobile speed camera. But it was retired in 2016 for maintenance problems.

Police said the mobile traffic unit is deployed based on complaints or concerns the department receives about speeders.

Most of those areas of concern, Capt. Cody Estling said, are neighborhoods, school zones and road construction sites.

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“It’s not deployed every day,” Estling said. “Its usage is not based on a schedule or any sort of locational rotation. We decide where to place the mobile unit based completely on the complaints we receive.”

Additionally, Estling said, “Whenever we deploy the mobile speed unit, it is placed in a location where there are clearly posted speed limit signs” to tell drivers the speed at which they should be traveling.

“We would prefer that we didn’t have to use cameras or set up traffic enforcement projects or issue citations at all,” Estling said. “But, unfortunately, drivers choose to speed and it’s our job to enforce the law and ensure the safety of the community.”

Tickets issued as a result of the mobile camera are down sharply from the recent past.

In previous years, the mobile speed camera generated roughly two to three times as many tickets during the same time period. Police data shows that the mobile unit issued 794 tickets in the same period in 2017 and 543 in the 2018 period.

The mobile camera was launched in 2010 as part of the city’s overall traffic camera program. Public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said it has been at least since 2014 that the city let drivers know in advance where the mobile camera would be stationed — and the city gives drivers no such heads-up now.

Like the other automated traffic cameras, the mobile unit will flag drivers traveling 12 or more mph over the limit.

For the city’s overall traffic camera program, fines start at $75 for speeding up to 20 mph over the limit and $100 for red-light violations, Buelow said. Speeding fines increase for more extreme violations, including for speeding in a road work zone.

Not all trips of the camera, though, result in citations, Buelow added.

“There are a number of potential reasons a citation may not be issued,” he said.

A license plate that is not clearly visible or a review of a red-light violation that shows weather could be a factor are examples of why police might not approve a citation be issued.

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But once a driver has received a camera-generated citation, a driver can either pay or challenge that citation within 30 days. More information on how to contest an automated citation can be found on the back of the citation or at www.cityofcr.com/ate.

In June, city officials estimated the automated camera program would bring in $4.7 million in revenue in the first year of operation.

Of the proceeds, $1.7 million is earmarked to pay traffic camera vendor Sensys Gatso USA, with the remainder going to hire 10 more police officers, officers and an administrator to help process the tickets.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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