Signs on a single post welcome motorists to University Heights and remind them of the speed limit.
Nearby is a police cruiser, equipped with state-of-the-art radar. It’s used often in this community known for its aggressive traffic enforcement.
“The perception is that we’re a speed trap,” Police Chief Ron Fort said. “My personal opinion is, that’s a good thing. The reality of it is, we’re sitting in plain sight. We don’t hide.”
With one officer on shift at a time, University Heights police made 5,217 traffic stops in 2008. It equals about 1,000 traffic stops per officer, or about five per resident — a rate much higher than the six other metropolitan communities analyzed by The Gazette.
Traffic stops in University Heights, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty were compared.
Nearly 900 of the University Heights traffic stops resulted in speeding tickets. Driver’s license, registration and insurance violations accounted for about 600 citations.
On Melrose Avenue, where most of the enforcement takes place, there hasn’t been a single University Heights resident cited for speeding in at least five years, Fort said.
“They know we’re there,” Fort said.
Marion also has a reputation for aggressive enforcement. A little more than 9,000 traffic stops were made by Marion officers last year, with about 2,000 of them resulting in speeding citations.
“You won’t get an apology from us for doing our job,” Lt. Michael De La Mater said.
De La Mater, commander of the patrol division since 1996, said people are more likely to have their lives altered by a traffic crash than by a crime. Of 934 traffic crashes last year in Marion, an ambulance was needed in only eight of them.
“That’s because we control our speed, and we have a 97 percent compliance rate on seat belts,” De La Mater said.
The number of traffic stops police make in Marion varies from day to day, according to a review of police logs by The Gazette. On June 15, Marion police made 77 stops, but only about 30 were made the next two days. During the first half of 2009, Marion averaged 26 traffic stops per day.
Days that Marion police make more traffic stops than Cedar Rapids police are not uncommon.
Last year, though, Marion police made the fewest traffic stops in at least four years, according to the department’s annual report. Officers there made nearly 12,000 stops in 2005 but made about 9,000 in 2008. De La Mater did not know the reason for the sharp decline but said a directive wasn’t issued.
While most police departments analyzed are on track to make nearly the same number of traffic stops this year as in 2008, officers in Coralville are well ahead of last year’s pace. Through June, Coralville police made 7,092 traffic stops, compared with 11,360 in all of 2008.
Some drivers believe traffic enforcement is driven by revenue, but De La Mater said only a fraction — less than $20 in some cases — comes back to the city for each speeding ticket.