Traffic camera or speed trailer?

BY BEN MARKS | MAY 07, 2015 5:00 AM

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Johnson County Sheriff’s Office officials are looking into updating the hardware and software of one of the county’s broken speed trailers.

The process would give the trailer the ability to take photographs, which is concerning to one supervisor.

Speed trailers sit on the side of a road, use radar to determine drivers’ speed, and automatically display it to them as they drive by.

“It’s a really good, proactive way for us to get at and remind people to slow down without necessarily giving tickets,” Johnson County Chief Deputy Steve Dolezal said during his presentation to the Board of Supervisors about the project Wednesday.

The county currently has two such machines, he said, although one of them is broken and would cost roughly $20,000 to replace. Retrofitting the trailer shell with new hardware and software however is only expected to cost $10,000.

Included in this update, Dolezal said, is the ability for the trailer to take photographs. This has led to concern from Supervisor Janelle Rettig, who said although she isn’t against speed trailers, she thinks adding the camera is one step closer to traffic cameras similar to the ones used in Cedar Rapids.

“I think the public should have had an opportunity to talk about whether they want Johnson County to photograph them,” she said.

Dolezal, however, said the camera’s picture quality wouldn’t allow it to capture license plates, only the type of vehicle, and would only allow them to identify habitually speeding cars.

“The camera alone wouldn’t allow us to write a citation, but good police work and that may allow us to write a citation,” he said.

Supervisor Pat Harney said while he was initially concerned the trailers would be used as speed cameras, after hearing Dolezal, he said he isn’t any longer.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil also didn’t express concern about the camera.

I don’t look at this as some strange surveillance of individuals by any means,” he said.

Rettig also raised concerns about how the trailer was budgeted as a jail-surveillance expense, although it would not be used in the jail.

While Dolezal said it was true the trailer would not be used in the jail, he contended that it was the most appropriate spot because of a lack of a specific line item dedicated to it. Sometimes, departments have to “fit a square peg into a round hole,” he noted.

Supervisor Mike Carberry said that while he saw no issue with the line item, and said, “not all expenditures fit nice and neatly into a line item, especially if they’re one-time-only or very rare.”

Nevertheless, Rettig said, she thought this issue was too important to let pass without further investigation.

“I think that is something the public should have an option to weigh in on and should have been discussed during budgeting,” she said. “This is an escalation of monitoring the public, and I think it deserved a public scrutiny. But I happen to think that of the military vehicles the Sheriff’s Office has bought also.”

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