Council passes ordinance for red light camera system
By Lynn Zerschling, Journal staff writer

City Councilmen tried to clear up what they viewed as a lot of misinformation about the new camera system that will snap pictures of drivers running red lights at some Sioux City intersections.

"Many people are raising issues that already have been raised," Councilman Jim Rixner said. "I think we need to continue some form of public information."

On Monday, the council enacted a law that will allow the city to implement the operation of the red-light-violation camera enforcement system. Last week, the council authorized the city manager to negotiate a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. Redflex will install the cameras at its own expense at a half dozen or so city intersections. The intersections have not been selected.

Under the plan, the cameras will snap photographs and take video of vehicles running red lights and forward that information to Redflex officials. Redflex then will review that information and give the police department the information. The police will decide whether to issue citations to the registered owner of the vehicle running the red light.

"If you drive responsibly, then you've got nothing to worry about," Councilman Jason Geary stated.

The city and Redflex will split the ticket revenues. The amount of that split has yet to be determined.

"Some people said this is a scheme to raise money for the city of Sioux City," Rixner said. "I don't see anything wrong with that, but this is about public safety. If it works like it should work, it will drive down insurance rates for all of us. ... If this can prevent even one of these accidents, I am in favor of it."

Police Chief Joe Frisbie suggested the city's share of the ticket revenue could be funneled back into traffic enforcement efforts. Last week, City Manager Paul Eckert said money from the city's share of the ticket revenue would be deposited in the General Fund. Public safety expenses take up about 63 percent of that fund.

During a wide-ranging discussion of the camera enforcement system, these key questions were asked:

-- What happens if the registered owner of the vehicle isn't driving the vehicle? Who gets the citation?

"The citation goes to the registered owner of the vehicle," similar to what happens when a vehicle is ticketed for illegally parking in a handicapped zone, Police Capt. Mel Williams explained. "If you can demonstrate you sold the vehicle to someone else or document that someone else was driving, we would forward the citation to that person."

-- Will the receipt of a ticket go on a person's driving record?

It is a civil violation.

"This ordinance bars us from providing this information to the state of Iowa. This is not going to your insurance company," Williams said.

-- What is the amount of the citation?

The ticket will cost violators $76.20. That is the same amount the driver would have to pay if a police officer gave the driver the ticket.

-- What if the registered owner or other driver does not pay the ticket on time?

On Monday, the council agreed to assess a $35 late fee.

-- What about questions raised in an article in "Popular Mechanics" magazine that the cameras will cause more rear-end collisions as people slam on brakes to stop at red lights?

"Popular Mechanics is not a scientific journal," Rixner asserted.

Frisbie added, "If this happens, it's because they're following too closely to begin with. ... Research has shown that wherever this has been used, it has decreased the number of collisions significantly at those intersections."

-- Is there a provision to appeal the citation?

Yes. The ordinance sets out the procedure, which includes requiring the person receiving the ticket to appeal in writing within 15 days of receiving the ticket to the police department. A hearing will be held. The driver may appeal the hearing officer's decision, which will result in the police issuing a municipal infraction citation and a subsequent court appearance.

-- Doesn't use of the cameras violate citizens' rights to privacy?

Rixner stated, "I am a proud card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union for the last 15 years and always will be."

Before he could finish his sentence, Councilman Dave Ferris said in disbelief, "Are you serious?"

Rixner said he was, adding, "I have no problem with this. We have cameras at the gambling boat. We have cameras at banks. We have cameras elsewhere."

Williams said, "The camera only records when someone violates the law."

Redflex officials told Williams the photographs and video taken of violators are not considered public record and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Once that information is forwarded to the police department and becomes part of the official file, it would become public record. In addition, Redflex files also could be subpoenaed.

Bill Himes, an officer in the Neighborhood Network, was the only citizen to testify on the issue.

"We need something like this in this city. It is not new technology," Himes said, noting a similar camera enforcement system was in place in the 1970s in Germany when he was there. "It does what it's supposed to -- reduce the number of accidents."

Mayor Craig Berenstein said, "We'll get an opportunity to look at the final agreement with them (Redflex) and the intersections selected."

Lynn Zerschling may be reached at (712) 293-4202 or