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Waterloo Considering Red-Light Traffic Cameras

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WATERLOO, Iowa - The city is entertaining plans for cameras to catch and ticket speeding motorists and those running red lights.

Waterloo City Council members received a sales pitch Monday from representatives of Gatso USA Inc. of Beverly, Mass., which installed similar traffic devices in Cedar Rapids earlier this year.

Mayor Buck Clark and a majority of the council members said they were willing to entertain employing the cameras, which are designed to improve roadway safety but have been panned by opponents as being city revenue boosters and invasions of privacy.

"I'm in favor of it," said Clark, a former police officer. "I would support it."
Paul Bazzano, vice president of sales for Gatso USA, said the cameras are typically set up at high-accident intersections and capture both still photos and video of traffic violations. The evidence is forwarded to the police department, which either approves or denies sending the ticket in the mail, and motorists receiving the citation can view the evidence online before deciding whether to pay the fine or contest it.

The city determines the guidelines for issuing tickets such as choosing to cite a speeder at 3 mph or 10 mph over the posted limit and also selects the locations.

Councilmen Ron Welper and Steve Schmitt both endorsed the idea.

"I know the citizens are going to say 'You're only doing this as a revenue source,'" Welper said. "But if it makes our streets safer and eventually we don't need (cameras) anymore, then great. If you obey the traffic laws, you've got nothing to fear."

Schmitt added, "Purely from a public safety standpoint, it's a good idea. If it makes the city safer, I'm for it."

Council member Carolyn Cole had a different view.

"I'm totally opposed to it," Cole said. "I don't think there's a quicker way to (upset) your residents any more than this. It's a shameless grab for revenue."

Councilmen Harold Getty and David Jones said they were interested in learning more about the cameras.

Jones acknowledged "they're controversial" but suggested a limited use in school zones could be beneficial.

"At this point I'm curious about looking into a mobile unit for some of our problem areas," he added.

Gatso USA has more than 47,000 installations in 62 countries around the world, including cameras at about a dozen intersections and on Interstate 380 northbound in Cedar Rapids.

"There's no upfront cost to implement a program," said Bazzano, noting the company pays for the installation and then keeps $30 for each ticket paid. The city keeps the bulk of the fines. In Cedar Rapids, the cameras are generating about $1,000 a day for the city coffers.

"The whole purpose of the program is to reduce accidents and improve driver behavior," Bazzano said. "The reality is there is an economic benefit. But it's secondary."

Several years ago, the city entertained a proposal from another company interested in putting up red light cameras here. At that point, the cameras were still facing constitutional challenges.

An Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2008 said the cameras were legal and cleared the way for many cities to begin investigating their use. Under Iowa law, the vehicle owner is liable for any fine issued to the vehicle based on the cameras even if they weren't behind the wheel.

Bazzano said he also met with Cedar Falls city officials Monday about the program.

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