Automated traffic enforcement cameras coming to Independence

Parents and police said speeding is a constant problem in the school zone along 1st Street West...
Parents and police said speeding is a constant problem in the school zone along 1st Street West in Independence. (Mary Green/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 30, 2019 at 10:21 PM CDT
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Police and parents in Independence are worried about children’s safety when they’re walking to and from school.

Last month, police reported that a car almost hit a school crossing guard, and officers said speeding is a constant problem along 1st Street W. In just a quarter-mile stretch of that road sits East Elementary School, West Elementary School, and two preschool and daycare centers, and drivers also have to pass through that stretch to reach Independence Junior-Senior High, which is nearby.

Now the city is turning to automated traffic enforcement cameras to enforce the law in the area around that school zone.

On Monday, the Independence city council approved a five-year contract between the city and Sensys Gatso, the company that will operate the cameras. The same company currently operates traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.

That’s good news for many families at East and West, including Kim Gates, who picks up her grandchildren from these schools every day. She said she regularly sees people speeding through the school zone when the speed limit drops from 30 mph to 20 mph.

“On the main road out there, yeah, I think some people do,” Gates said.

Independence Police Chief Dustin Dallenbach called that stretch of road “a nightmare.”

“I have kids that go to school, both the middle school and the elementary school, and if we ever decided to want to walk to school someday, I know what it’s like to try to get across 1st Street,” Dallenbach said.

Dallenbach said the police department has tried just about every tactic it can think of to get drivers to slow down in the school zone, including flashing signs. But, the problem’s still there.

“Because of so many cars that are in that area, it’s hard for an officer to turn around to stop a car,” Dallenbach said.

Now that the contract with Sensys Gatso has been approved, the city said it will next determine the exact locations of each camera.

Dallenbach said there will most likely be a month-long warning period for drivers to get acclimated to them before citations are issued. He expects it to be a fairly quick process between now and then.

“Usually they can get them up and running in 2 to 3 months,” Dallenbach said.

The city also plans to install two red-light cameras at intersections where no right turns on red are allowed. One will be at the intersection of 1st Street W. and 9th Avenue NW, across the street from the public schools, while a second will be at the intersection of 5th Avenue NE and 3rd Street NE, near St. John Catholic School, a private school.

“Those were put in place for kids to cross the street without having any issues, so having the no-turn-on-red stoplight cameras there would be a benefit,” Dallenbach said.

One parent told KCRG-TV9 on Wednesday that she doesn't know how much an effect the cameras will have and believes a larger officer presence in the school zone will deter speeders.

But most drivers in the East and West school pickup lines said they believe the cameras are a good idea, including Kim Gates.

“I think most people are generally careful,” Gates said. “But then you might have one or two that aren’t, and it only takes one time.”

Police are also looking into getting a speed camera car, like Cedar Rapids and Waterloo both have, as well as a handheld speed device.

According to the contract, the city will pay Sensys Gatso $38 per paid citation or 38% of total citation fees, whichever is greater.