Keeping citizens safe: Speeders justify speed camera installation

By Jennifer Bissell

The cities of Lansing and New Albin are looking to place speed cameras in town as a way to curb a problem of speed violators.

Recently, Lansing Police Chief Conrad Rosendahl brought the issue to the Lansing City Council, with a public input meeting in early December. Following the meeting, the city voted in favor of moving forward with adding speed cameras to two locations in town. New Albin, which contracts with the Lansing Police Department for its law enforcement, is also moving forward with the discussion. 

Finding a solution

In a conversation with Chief Rosendahl, he explained the topic of speed cameras began as a possible solution to a growing problem in New Albin. According to Rosendahl, New Albin has had a speeding issue with drivers coming through town. Rosendahl said unless they receive a call, New Albin has four hours of police coverage each day from the Lansing department, meaning 20 hours a day there is no actual enforcement of traffic laws. 

To assess the situation, Rosendahl said he placed an officer in town for extended time over an eight-day stretch, focusing on speed. The officer made dozens of traffic stops during that time. 

“The task of being the chief is how do we come up with a solution to the problem that doesn’t cause the city to pay extra, like paying for additional officers,” he said. “We want to fix the problem with minimal cost.”

Rosendahl reached out to Postville Police Chief Matt Ellis to learn more about their recent installation of speed cameras, contracted with Maryland-based company, Altumint. Rosendahl contacted Altumint to do a speed study in New Albin and Lansing. Rosendahl said the company found both cities were over the threshold of speeders to justify installing cameras. 

Hearing the arguments

At the town hall meeting in December, Rosendahl fielded several questions from concerned citizens. He explained that installing the cameras is more than just issuing citations for speeding, it’s about keeping the citizens as safe as possible.

“The other side of this conversation, strictly in my opinion, is it’s a safety issue. Unless there’s a special event, we only have one officer on duty for both towns,” he said. “You can’t dedicate a certain number of hours just to traffic enforcement with one officer. If we get a call, we’re solely dedicated to that call. We cannot enforce traffic then. 

“When you’re on duty watching traffic, it doesn’t seem like we have that big of a problem. But when we’re not around, that’s when people tend to speed.”

Rosendahl went on to explain that having cameras doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for a police department. 

“We also had the question of, if we have all the cameras, what do we need cops for? It’s to try to fill a void when we don’t have an officer around. It gives us 24 hour coverage where we didn’t have it before. It gives us the option to do that and not spend any taxpayer money by adding additional officers or paying overtime. That’s the drive for me as a chief,” he said. 

“Another side of the argument is: ‘It doesn’t do anything to slow down traffic. It’s just a money grab for the city.’ I would say that most of that is untrue. Will the city make money? Yes. Is that the reason to do it? No. In fact, you put the cameras in and drivers slow down, you have less violations so revenue will drop. And if it drops from that, then great. We’re addressing the problem,” he said. 

During the meeting, Rosendahl said he’d talked with Ellis and West Union’s police chief. Both officers commented that businesses have not seen a decrease in foot traffic because of the cameras.

Several indicators

Following the study, it was recommended cameras be placed on Highway 9 and on Highway 26 in Lansing, with speed cameras being able to monitor traffic in both directions. Rosendahl said specifically on the entrance to town on Highway 9 coming from Waukon, motorists will have the initial speed limit sign, as well as radar speed limit signs that flash the speed, before they’d encounter the cameras. 

“If you’re coming into town and you see the sign and then the flash in your face and you’re still choosing to drive that fast, then you deserve a citation,” he said. “Those people who are speeding through town, there’s a pretty good chance they have no intention of slowing down to spend money in our towns.”

With the cameras, Rosendahl noted drivers would receive a civil citation, rather than a criminal citation which officers write. With a civil citation, violators don’t lose their license and it doesn’t affect driving records. The citations are issued from Altumint; however there are still options to fight the citation. In addition, Rosendahl will be able to view the citations first, meaning he can veto volunteer fire and EMT personnel responding to a call. 

Once the cameras are installed, there would be a 30 day warning period, that could be extended to 60 days, where all violators would receive a warning rather than a citation. In addition, there would be signs denoting the use of cameras in town. 

Up to the council

At the conclusion of the community meeting, the council was presented with a petition signed by over 100 residents who disagree with the placement of the cameras. Lansing had 986 residents at the time of the 2020 census. 

Following the discussion, the council voted in favor of pursuing the cameras during their regular monthly meeting. However, before the cameras can be placed, the council needs to write, vote and approve a city ordinance on enforcing the cameras. A part of that ordinance will be at what speed violators receive a citation. 

There is no cost to the city to purchase the cameras. Altumint owns the equipment, completes the cement work needed to install them and pays the electric bill. Of each citation, Altumint retains 30 percent of the amount issued, with the city receiving 70 percent. Rosendahl noted he’d like to see that any revenue made from the cameras put into a fund to assist with public safety, such as replacing streetlights. 

“If we can improve on the speeding problem and increase public safety while not costing the city a dime, it’s kind of silly not to do it,” said Rosendahl. 

Rosendahl recommended setting the cameras to issue a citation once a driver goes 11-13 miles over the speed limit; however, he noted the specific number is up to the city council.

Rosendahl encourages anyone with ties to Lansing or New Albin to reach out to his office with any questions. 

“If people have questions or they’re unsure about it, I encourage them to come and talk to us and find out the true information on this issue. Don’t just make assumptions based on what is on Facebook,” he said. 

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