Make a decision on cameras

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 9 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 1:45 pm in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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We’ve long argued that the decision to use traffic-enforcement cameras should be a local one.

Some cities, such as Cedar Rapids, have found them to be an efficient, effective way to make roadways safer. In others, citizen concerns about privacy and fairness may speak louder than the potential safety benefits.

So we support Iowa City residents’ petition asking Iowa City councilors to either adopt an ordinance outlawing traffic-enforcement cameras and other automated surveillance technology, such as drones, or to send the matter to voters to decide.

We feel that cameras can be useful, consistently enforcing traffic laws in problematic areas or where in-person policing is difficult. We hope that after reviewing the evidence and airing public question and concerns, Iowa City leaders and voters agree. But, ultimately, it should be their decision to make.

Traffic-enforcement cameras continue to be controversial, even after the state Supreme Court affirmed their constitutionality in a 2008 ruling. Some legislators have sought to outlaw or otherwise control local use of the devices.

Last week, they submitted a petition signed by 3,322 registered Iowa City voters, asking councilors to ban traffic-enforcement cameras, drones and automatic license-plate recognition systems within that city’s limits.

Last year, on a split vote, city councilors approved installation of traffic-enforcement cameras, intending to install red-light cameras at certain intersections with heavy crash rates.

Opponents argue the cameras violate car owners’ rights and create unequal punishment under the law. Some worry about excessive government monitoring. Others see automated enforcement as a cash grab. Some opponents question the cameras’ effectiveness, although that is a more difficult case to make.

Take Cedar Rapids: As of last year, outgoing Police Chief Greg Graham credited traffic-enforcement cameras with significant decreases in crashes and injuries. Other police chiefs where cameras are used can cite similar statistics.

We hope those cities’ experiences are part of the conversation as Iowa City continues discussing whether traffic-enforcement cameras are right for that city.

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