Waterloo apparently will be joining other cities across the state and nation in employing cameras to ticket traffic offenders - particularly speeders and motorists who are running red lights.
At the Monday City Council meeting, council members voted unanimously to approve the second reading of a proposed ordinance, which would make Waterloo the first Black Hawk County community to employ the cameras.
Waterloo Police Chief Dan Trelka said the cameras have proven effective in reducing crashes in other communities. He is proposing to install red light cameras at six high-crash intersections.
Many will see that as an infringement. Some will see it as a money grab. Others will see it as a prudent safety precaution.
Wayne Nathem, a former mayoral candidate, was among several residents at the meeting who oppose traffic cameras. "Are they really for safety or are they for revenue?" he asked. "I feel like they're more for revenue than what they are for safety."
Trelka has suggested a fine of $60 to $70 for a violation, which is something the City Council would need to establish by resolution. He added he would prefer to see any revenue generated by the cameras used to hire three more police officers or to lower property taxes.
We realize the factor of increased revenue for municipalities from the collection of fines may be one aspect of the rising popularity of installing cameras in communities across the country.
So, we have to balance the benefits of enhanced safety with the "Big Brother" aspect of the cameras.
On the safety side, statistics have shown a reduction in crashes at some intersections where cameras have been installed. We all know of instances in our own communities that reinforce the fact our roadways can be dangerous places.
Arguments that such cameras would be an invasion of privacy are weak, since any cameras would be employed on public roadways where motorists are entrusted with obeying traffic laws. The locations of cameras would be public knowledge. So too, would be the types of infractions being enforced.
Is it really that different than having radar monitoring traffic from an airplane or helicopter - which is often used by state patrols across the country?
We're all for increasing safety, but our support still comes with some reservations.
Under Iowa law, the vehicle owner is liable for any fine issued to the vehicle based on the cameras, even if they weren't behind the wheel. That isn't going to happen in the majority of cases, but it's still wrong. Cities and counties are increasingly deciding this is an acceptable procedure, while avoiding the hassle of tracking down the actual violators.
The proposed ordinance requires someone designated by the police chief to review images captured by the cameras before a citation is issued. The citation would be a municipal infraction that does not count against a person's state driving record.
Council members tabled a proposed three-year contact with Gatso US, of Beverly, Mass., to install and operate the cameras. The contract and a proposed fine schedule will come up for a vote after the final ordinance reading at the August 7 council meeting.
In the end, we believe safety factors should win out. Let's face it; running a red light is dangerous. We grudgingly place our support behind the traffic enforcement cameras at the high-crash intersections, as outlined by Waterloo's police chief.
For those worried about the proposed law, we would simply recommend obeying local traffic rules - including the speed limit - and heeding traffic signals.
This editorial appeared in the July 28 edition of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, another Lee Enterprises publication.