City Council to discuss red light cameras


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Iowa City drivers could see an extra pair of eyes at several city intersections as early as this summer.

The Iowa City City Council will discuss the possibility of installing red-light cameras at 10 intersections at tonight’s work session.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine, who supports the addition of cameras, said he provided councilors with information on speeding and the safety of various intersections.

“I think its something that needs to be addressed,” he said.

The 10 most-dangerous intersections in Iowa City are responsible for 32 injury-causing accidents costing roughly $1 million in property damage in the last decade. More than 150 vehicles have run red lights at those intersections, and police have reported almost 1,000 crashes.

“I’m absolutely supportive of the red-light cameras,” said Councilor Mike Wright. “We have a real problem in Iowa City running red lights. I see it almost every day.”

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According to city documents, Iowa City police officers logged 1,396 hours working on 1,851 traffic accidents. Hargadine said adding cameras would allow officers to do more community-based policing.

“If we can reduce our officers’ times, plus increase safety, I think it’s very important that we look at it,” said Councilor Terry Dickens.

But while Dickens said he would support the measure, Councilor Connie Champion said she is more reserved about the possibility but she’ll listen to discussion.

“It’s too much Big Brother to me,” she said. “The whole idea bothers me.”

Owners of the offending vehicles would be responsible for a civil fine of $50, Hargadine said.

If the council decided to move forward with the initiative, Hargadine said, the city would look for potential third-party companies to fund the installment, collecting a certain percentage of the $50 civil fines collected. The rest would be likely go into a public-safety contingency fund.

Cedar Rapids installed eight intersection cameras in March 2010 in order to combat collisions, and that city has since seen a 40 percent decrease in accident totals, said Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham.

He attributed improved driver behavior to the speed and red-light cameras; he will attend the council meeting this evening to answer any questions.

Five cities in Iowa have monitored intersections, including Cedar Rapids and Davenport, and other municipalities are considering the move, said Alan Kent, the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities.

“I think there is [a growing interest],” he said.

Other cities such as Muscatine and Des Moines are looking into the prospect of establishing red-light cameras and speed enforcement, he said.

He said he attributes some of that interest to House Study Bill 93, which would require signs be posted notifying motorists of the surveillance as well as a cap on the fine.

Though the cameras had been met with opposition that sees a violation of privacy, Graham said, the fines only deal with those who break the law.

“The basic premise is holding people accountable,” he said. “And people don’t like being held accountable.”

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