Questions About Red-Light Cameras? Answers May Be An E-Mail Away

By Jeff Raasch, Reporter

A Gatso USA systems engineer makes adjustments to the red light camera aimed at the northbound lanes at the intersection of Edgewood Rd. NE and 42nd St. NE on Thursday, April 8, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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By Richard Pratt

Relatively few residents have e-mailed Cedar Rapids police with their questions about the new automated enforcement cameras.

Police created a new e-mail address (crpdredlight@cedar-rapids.org) specifically for those questions, but Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said only a few are received each week. By comparison, more than 450 questions were submitted during a one-hour online chat with police last week at GazetteOnline.com and KCRG.com.

Hamblin said four police commanders share the responsibility to respond to the e-mails. As of late last week, 26 e-mails had not been returned.

“They really should not have to wait too long (for a reply),” Hamblin said. “It’s jut finding the time to do it.”

Here are answers to some of our readers’ most-burning questions:

Isn’t it illegal for the vehicle with the mobile speed camera to park along the shoulder of Interstate 380 and in No Parking zones?

Capt. Steve O’Konek: Enforcement vehicles may park stop or stand, contrary to those restrictions, while conducting official business. Not unlike a trooper in the median checking speeds. The reality is, is that you have no legal right to violate the law and we have no requirement to alert you before we enforce the law. We will be (marking) the mobile speed camera vehicle in the future and posting location (of the mobile speed camera) online.

Is there any way to dispute a red light/speed camera ticket?

Lt. Jeff Hembera: When you receive a notice of violation in the mail, there are instructions for either paying the citation or appealing the citation. To appeal, you contact the company as stated on the notice, and you will be given a time to appear at the Police Station to meet with a Hearing Officer. If the Hearing Officer finds against you, you have the final option of appealing to civil court.

Will the cameras enforce the law against drivers going 1 to 5 mph over the speed limit?

O’Konek: There is some tolerance built into the system. Contrary to what has been said, we have not issued any citations to anyone for 1 to 5 mph over. We recognize there are variances in speedometers.

The cameras have already brought in more than $83,000 in profit. How will that money be used?

O’Konek: In very simple terms, it goes into the city’s general fund and is tracked as revenue for the Police Department. The revenue offsets the taxpayer responsibility. We do not get an increase in our budget. Rather, our budget is reduced based on the amount of revenue we project to generate.

Are city vehicles receiving tickets as well?

O’Konek: We have had city vehicles observed violating the systems. Those violations are sent to the agency to pay the citation. In all cases of officers violating system, a commander reviews them to determine if they were on a call for service or had some legal reason to violate the system. If not, they will either pay the citation or be subject to internal disciplinary action. We have had police officers receive citations who were off duty. They are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

How much money from each violation goes to the vendor?

O’Konek: The contractor, Gatso USA, receives $30 per violation (30% of red light camera citations). The city receives the rest.

Will you adjust the automated enforcement system when the winter season comes?

Hembera: In the event of serious inclement weather, such as a blizzard or an ice storm, we will certainly see violations. In these instances, we will notify the company to stop enforcement until the roads are back to a normal condition for driving.

If the cameras record an accident, can the footage be used in court proceedings?

O’Konek: Yes. They can, and we have pulled footage of crashes. They have aided in our investigation of the accidents when we have conflicting stories.

Why didn’t Cedar Rapids fix faulty intersections instead of install red light cameras?

O’Konek: We have looked at all the possible strategies to reduce crashes. Roadway design is a way to do that. At the intersections where we have red light systems, the roadway design is as good as it can be. First Avenue and Collins Road is a high-accident intersection, and certainly a candidate for a system. The roadway is under construction to fix it. We will hold off on a system to see if the design change reduces crashes. If it doesn’t, we may need to install a system. We hope the design works.

Some people have received citations for speeding in an area where speed is restricted “when children are present.” Can you explain the law?

O’Konek: We feel the school zone speeds apply when school is in session. “When children are present” is confusing. We will be updating the ordinance to make it clearer, and this should be done before school goes in session. We will not be deploying the speed systems in school zones until it is clarified.

It is my understanding that we have the right to face our accuser in court? How is that justified in these cases?

O’Konek: The accuser is the officer who approved the violation not the camera that captured the evidence. If you do go to court, the officer will testify and the city will present evidence as to the violation.

When you a camera-generated citation, why do you have to send your payment to New York?

Sgt. Cristy Hamblin: This is part of our contractual agreement with Gatso USA. This is their payment processing center in Latham, N.Y.

What if you are a trucker from Minnesota and you get a ticket from Interstate 380. To appeal, would you have to travel back to Cedar Rapids for a hearing?

Hamblin: On the citation itself, there is an opportunity for out-of-state residents to file an appeal through the mail. Information can be found at http://cedarrapids.easysitepay.com or by calling (866) 471-6529.

Who are the hearing officers who listen to the appeal?

Hamblin: Currently there are three people involved in the appeals hearings. They are citizens and always have been.

If you are driving next to someone going the same speed, how does the camera know which one should get the ticket?

Hamblin: If they are on I-380, each lane has a camera and can tell which vehicle is speeding. If it is on city streets, an officer will review the video and verify which vehicle was speeding. If they can’t tell, the violation will be dismissed.

Will your driver’s license be suspended if you don’t pay the fine?

Hamblin: It is a civil violation and your driver’s license will not be affected. If the person does not pay their fine, it will go to a collection agency and can affect their credit rating.

Can the weekly/monthly detailed statistics per camera be posted online for public scrutiny? This would be very transparent.

Hamblin: This is exactly what we plan on doing. With the city’s website just up and running, there is only so much that I could do so far. We plan on having a break down posted each month on the website. We also plan on posting where the mobile speed cameras can be found each week.

How can a person request that the mobile speed camera be parked on their street?

Hamblin: Simply make the request to the Traffic Division at (319) 286-5356.

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