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Iowa City police’s speeding procedure set to protect citizens, not harass them

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 23, 2009 7:15 AM

A nice drive on an open highway is an iconic image of summer. But just down the road, a cop lurking behind a billboard or just over the hill waiting to pull over the speedster seems to put a damper on the speed dream. It’s the summer speed trap, and it’s a scenario everyone is familiar with. Those icons of summer, diametrically opposed, seem to come together all too often.

Police do it on purpose, though not for the reasons people generally think. They cite speeders for the safety of all and do it at the request of city and state officials — not for their own greed and (hopefully) not just to ruin your fun ride.

No one likes speeding tickets and with good reason. They are expensive: Throw in surcharges and court fees, and you could be sitting above $100. They also burden the driver, bumping up insurance rates for years after the incident. Three speeding tickets in a year can suspend a driver’s license in Iowa. Drivers may keep their licenses if they take driver-improvement courses, but they will still be on probation for a year afterward.

Speeding tickets are a serious inconvenience. Perhaps that is why people develop common misconceptions surrounding them: Police hungrily stalking fast drivers like lions hunting gazelles is one such misconception. It is easy to rationalize, perhaps even justify, reckless behavior like speeding if people believe police routinely seek out speeders whenever they experience a budget shortfall.

The truth behind speed enforcement is much to the contrary, however. Police, for one, do not set the speed limits, nor do they assign the price for the fine; state and local governments do. Neither do police set quotas for tickets officers collect. Quotas in the Iowa are, in fact, illegal. This myth probably comes from observing where cops usually patrol. Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsey said officers usually patrol heavily trafficked areas and main roads. That may give the impression police are looking for speeders, but those areas are obviously the roads where most people travel and are at most risk of getting into an accident. Kelsey said the police plan heavier patrols about once a month to raise awareness and remind people to slow down.

Additionally, the police announce areas they will patrol ahead of time on their webpage. If police were looking to entrap speeders, they certainly wouldn’t announce where they were hiding. The police don’t announce all speed patrols, but not because they are looking to trap unsuspecting speeders; Kelsey said officers also patrol neighborhoods where they receive a large number of residential complaints. In these cases, it is the residents who want to trap speeders, not the police.

The idea of cops funding their department with speeding tickets is perhaps the most well-known and incorrect myth. Police in the our state receive little money from speeding tickets and then only at the government’s discretion. The money goes directly to the city governments, and it is up to the city how much they’ll give to the police. The police did not receive any money from the city that originated from speeding tickets in the 2009 budget, said Iowa City Director of Finance Kevin O’Malley. Police are clearly not trapping speeders for a quick buck.

Speeding for many drivers is a natural compulsion, but they break the law when they do. Breaking the law should never be pleasant, no matter how mundane or commonplace the offense may be. Speeding is no exception. People who speed should be punished accordingly, as the crime puts people in jeopardy. Society entrusts law enforcement to the local police. We should not cry foul when they enforce that mandate.

Put simply: Give cops a break — they’re enforcing the law, protecting the masses, and doing their jobs.


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