MPD moving forward with automated traffic enforcement plans
The Marshalltown city council received an update on the status of plans to install automated traffic cameras at multiple locations around town during Monday night’s regular meeting.
Marshalltown Police Department Capt. Chris Jones spoke before the council and explained the next steps in the process toward signing a five-year contract with Sensys Gatso Group. According to Jones, the initial contract is for two fixed area systems and one portable system.
The floor was then opened to questions from councilors, who asked about the length of the contract and whether it could be adjusted along with how to ensure payments are collected.
Jones said the MPD is currently working with Sensys Gatso on options for collecting on unpaid citations.
“What I can guarantee from Sensys Gatso is that there’s no extra charge or charge for unpaid citations,” Jones said. “Anything that goes unpaid would really be (at) our discretion on how we want to handle that process, and we’re currently looking at the most efficient and affordable way to do that. Obviously, there’s some expense to collections, and we’re working through some of those options to make sure we’re doing it efficiently.”
Early on, Jones said, up to 75 percent of the citations are unpaid, but he expected the number to drop to between 50 and 65 percent over time “depending on how aggressive we are with collections.”
“If we make it known that we are gonna go after offenders for nonpayment, then obviously those numbers go down,” Jones said.
Councilor Dex Walker commended his colleagues and the leaders at the police department for what he called “good conversations” in trying to find a way to keep Marshalltown safe and reduce speed across the community.
A motion to approve the master services agreement with Sensys Gatso carried by a 6-1 tally with Jeff Schneider as the lone dissenting vote.
During a subsequent interview, Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper said that the process of installing the cameras is still in its early phases, but he sees it as a way to address one of the top complaints he hears on a regular basis.
“It’s three or four times a day, and it deals with traffic enforcement — just reckless driving or people not obeying stop signs in neighborhoods, stuff like that,” Tupper said. “Our dilemma is we receive about 800 calls for service a week, and we don’t have all the time we would like to have to devote to traffic enforcement because we’re responding to emergencies and other higher priority needs.”
Using technology, he added, is a great start toward addressing a speeding problem that “most people in the community acknowledge exists.” Tupper didn’t have a hard number on how many communities in Iowa utilize some sort of automated enforcement — in Iowa, Cedar Rapids is perhaps the best known example — but he said they have been used in both large cities and smaller towns.
Although traffic cameras have been challenged in court both in Iowa and around the country, Tupper said they are legal and constitutional, and he doesn’t see a civil liberties issue. While collecting payment remains an important bridge to cross, he’s confident the MPD will figure out a system that works.
“I always tell people this is a voluntary fine or fee. If you don’t want a ticket from one of these cameras, all we need to do is follow the law and don’t speed,” Tupper said.
Once the cameras are installed, Tupper said the MPD will inform the public of where they are, and he sees the fixed sites being planted in areas where they know a problem exists. There are “at least 30 to 40 hotspots” already in town, according to the chief, but the mobile site will rotate.
“We want you to know. We want you to be thinking about the cameras because we hope that will cause you to slow down,” he said. “This isn’t really about tickets or issuing fees or fines. This is about safety for us, and we want to make sure people are slowing down.”
The contract stipulates that there is no upfront cost to the city, and Sensys Gatso will collect $35 from each citation issued. How the revenues generated from the cameras will be distributed remains to be seen, but that decision will ultimately fall to the city council.
Contact Robert Maharry
at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or