Staff Editorial

Spending ticket revenue on policing makes sense

Traffic approaches the speed enforcement traffic cameras on I-380 Northbound near the J Avenue exit in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 25, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic approaches the speed enforcement traffic cameras on I-380 Northbound near the J Avenue exit in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 25, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

We find much to support in Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman’s proposal, unveiled this week, to spend dollars collected from unpaid automated traffic cameras on “proactive” policing initiatives.

Jerman proposed to use the dollars to install cameras in Greene Square and Redmond parks, as well as in parts of the downtown area. Greene Square, site of a recent fatal assault, has sparked concerns among police and neighborhood stakeholders. The renovated park has become a major draw for residents and events, and officials are moving swiftly to enhance safety.

A portion of the money also would be used to help pay for a new school resources officer at Metro High School. And police hope to buy portable traffic barricades and bollards Jerman said would be used to protect events from the threat of a vehicle driving into a crowd.

The City Council still must sign off on the details of these proposals.

While we opposed the original decision last year to hire a collection agency to collect unpaid fines, we think these efforts make sense, and we appreciate the city’s willingness to let citizens know exactly how these collected dollars will be spent, rather than simply folding them into the broader budget.

We hope that transparency extends to policies on how police will use their new cameras, how footage is stored and for how long. We’d also like to see a commitment to make camera footage used in investigations available to the public.

These proposed projects are being funded by some of the revenue brought in from Municipal Collections of America, which the city hired to go after thousands of people who failed to pay automated traffic enforcement camera tickets. We saw the effort, including turning over names of Iowans to a state program that deducts fines from tax refunds and lottery winnings, as heavy-handed.

The first notices arrived in mailboxes just before Christmas. City officials who long argued the camera program is all about safety, not revenue, were sending a very different message with their yuletide collections push.

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To date, 35,887 citations have been paid, roughly 16 percent of outstanding fines, amounting to $3.2 million. MCA’s cut is $656,000 and GATSO, the city’s camera contractor, gets $800,000. The city’s take is $1.6 million.

The collections effort will continue, and more fines will flow in. This year, we’d like to see a holiday collections hiatus. And we hope the city continues to inform residents of exactly how the money collected is being spent.

• Comments: (319) 398-8282; editorial@thegazette.com

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