New camera, spike in traffic tickets at one Cedar Rapids intersection

A deeper dive found a dramatic increase in citations from one intersection off the highway.
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 10:42 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) – Speeding drivers pay millions of dollars, each year, under the watchful eye of the automated cameras in the sky. Money that, eventually, makes its way to the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Going back to when the cameras first issued citations in early 2010, the four banks of cameras on Interstate 380, routinely, account for 93 percent of the tickets issued, sometimes more. An i9 investigation discovered that, in parts of 2021, the rate dropped substantially. In June, only 85 percent of the citations came from I-380. In July, only 87 percent.

A deeper dive found a dramatic increase in citations from one intersection off the highway.

First Avenue East and 10th Street. An intersection between the city’s two hospitals, in what is now referred to as the MedQuarter.

How dramatic?

June 2019: 250 citations

June 2020: 254

June 2021: 1,810

July 2019: 89 citations

July 2020: 47

July 2021: 1,706

We first looked into whether the city had lowered the threshold to issue a speeding citation at this specific intersection.

“All thresholds have stayed the same,” Amanda Greider, public safety programs manager with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, said. We verified this through data the city provided on the times, dates and speed of violators in June 2019, June 2020 and June 2021. The threshold to issue a ticket remained at 42 miles per hour, twelve above the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

Here is the financial difference. Sensys Gatso is the company that provides and operates the cameras and issues the citations. Unless the speeding is excessive, a driver gets a fine of $75 in the mail in the days after the violation. The company keeps $30 and the city gets the rest.

If every driver ticketed for speeding at this intersection in July 2021 pays the citation, the police department would get $68,240 in revenue.

In July 2021, of only 47 citations, the city would collect $2,115.

Through repeated inquiries with the city of Cedar Rapids, we finally heard the reason as to why this intersection is seeing an increase.

“In May of 2021, we placed the camera in lane two (of the intersection) to a newer version, which created an increase in citations,” city spokesperson Maria Johnson wrote, by e-mail. The “lane two” is the right eastbound lane of 1st Avenue East.

We replied back if this “newer version” was more efficient in issuing tickets.

“The camera is a newer version, which provides clearer images of license plates, leaving less opportunities for license plates to be unreadable by processors and police officers,” Johnson replied, by e-mail. Johnson said Sensys Gatso pays for the equipment and that “cameras are updated as new technology is needed”.

KCRG-TV9 asked for a video example of the newer version, compared with the current cameras at the intersection.

“We do not have a video example of before and after,” Johnson responded. “If the image isn’t clear, the (information) never gets entered and we wouldn’t ever see the image.”

This latest discovery comes just as the automated traffic cameras are back to issuing tickets in the hundreds of thousands each year.

For June, July and August 2021, the cameras cited more than 59,540 drivers all over Cedar Rapids. At $45 per ticket for the city, that would net $2.68 million dollars for the police department for those three months.

From mid-2017 to early 2019, the city put a stop to issuing automated speeding and red light tickets because of litigation over the legality of the cameras.

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