More than 3,200 government vehicles cannot be ticketed by cities with traffic cameras because the cars and trucks aren’t listed in computerized files.
About 350 local, state and federal agencies have vehicles given a special designation by the Iowa Department of Transportation so their license plates do not turn up in electronic searches, according to data the DOT provided The Gazette Tuesday.
"If a vehicle is not on file, no violation is sent," Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin told The Gazette last week. "As part of our business rules with our vendor, if a vehicle is not on file, the event is captured, but the event is not forwarded to our agency."
The question of whether public officials are skipping speeding tickets came up after an April incident in which a state-owned SUV carrying Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was clocked driving 84 mph on U.S. Highway 20, which has a speed limit of 65.
A state trooper who pursued the car did not initially know it contained the governor because the SUV’s license plate was not kept in computerized files.
Agencies allowed to use unmarked vehicles not included in computerized files include law enforcement, lottery officials, disease investigators, mental health professionals and economic development officials pursuing new business ventures for Iowa.
These vehicles use standard license plates, rather than plates marked for state vehicles. If a law enforcement officer tries to search for the plate number electronically, it won't be found. Agencies can track these plates with a phone call or teletype query to the DOT.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has the most vehicles not listed in computerized files with 210, followed by the Des Moines Police Department with 170 and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) with 151, the DOT reported.
The Iowa State Patrol is listed as having 140 vehicles not in computerized files, but Lt. Rob Hansen thinks the number is lower.
“We have reduced the number of unmarked vehicles in the past six months in an effort to provide a more robust visual presence on the roadway system,” wrote Hansen, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. “Our fleet manager will be reaching out to IDOT to ensure those 30-plus vehicles have been removed from this designation.”
Cedar Rapids, Muscatine, Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Clive and Ankeny are among cities that have added traffic cameras in recent years to patrol high-traffic areas and bring in revenue. A Gazette survey of several of these cities showed all worked with vendors that reject citations for vehicles whose license plate numbers don't match computerized files.
Vehicles with obscured or missing plates can also avoid citations under many systems.
The April 26 speeding incident involving the SUV carrying Branstad is being investigated by the Public Safety Department. The probe focuses on the actions of the two state troopers who were on duty when the decision was made not to stop the speeding vehicle.Larry Hedlund, a DCI special agent who spotted the vehicle along U.S. 20 between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge, complained that the SUV was not stopped. Shortly after, he was placed on administrative leave for reasons officials say were not connected to the complaint.