LE CLAIRE, Iowa — It has been just over one year since the City of LeClaire started ticketing drivers for speeding using speed cameras in three different locations throughout the city.
One set of cameras is located on the Interstate 80 bridge. The second is along U.S. Highway 67 south of town near Green Gables Marina. The third is a mobile speed enforcement unit, which can be placed around the city at the police department's discretion.
Those cameras started ticketing drivers exceeding the speed limit in each location on March 5, 2021, three months after they were first installed.
"We knew going into this program there are people that are against it and I guess in my opinion are not understanding of how it works or what the results have been," said LeClaire Police Chief Shane Themas.
In an effort to slow drivers down, the speeding tickets came quick.
From March 5, 2021, through March 5, 2022, the LeClaire Police Department issued 95,205 speeding citations, according to data obtained by WQAD through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In the first year, 16,040 drivers were cited for driving between six and 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, and incurred a $50 fine, according to data provided by the police department.
A total of 78,053 drivers were cited for driving between 11 and 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Each driver in these cases incurred a $75 fine.
A total of 981 drivers faced a $100 fine for driving between 21 and 25 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
A $250 fine was given to 105 drivers who were cited for driving 26 to 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit in the first year the cameras were active. And 26 drivers were cited for driving more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, and each faced a $500 fine.
No one was cited for driving one to five miles per hour over the speed limit during this time. This is the same finding as in July 2021, when we verified a claim suggesting the department was citing drivers for going just one mile per hour over the posted limit.
The cameras monitor every vehicle that passes through each location and identifies violating drivers, Themas said. If a violation is detected, the camera takes pictures of the vehicle and license plate, as well as a short video of the vehicle in that location, he added.
"That footage is then forwarded to the vendor that have installed and maintained the cameras for the city of LeClaire," Themas said. "They review that and make sure everything matches, the video matches properly, the plates match the vehicle, the vehicle description, and in their opinion, if all of that is accurate, then it is forwarded to us and we have our staff review it a second time, and do the same thing."
In July 2020, the LeClaire City Council approved a contract with Sensys Gatso as the vendor who maintains and operates the speed cameras throughout the city.
In that contract, the City of LeClaire is required to use the cameras for five years.
Also in that contract, Sensys Gatso receives a fee of $35 or 35% of total citation fees collected during the first three years. It is reduced to $32 or 32% of total citation fees collected in each subsequent year.
After that process, citations are then mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle, Themas said. The cameras, while intended to slow drivers down, have also helped reduce crashes around the city.
"The location accidents, at the fixed locations of the cameras, both on Interstate 80 and Highway 67, dropped from 18 collisions in 2020, to six collisions in 2021 in those exact locations," Themas said.
The number of crashes in the entirety of the city's limits dropped from 60 in 2020 to 43 in 2021.
"The whole point of the program is compliance," Themas said. "The longer it’s in place, the more people that are affected by it, it should, it has changed behavior in those locations. So if it works properly we should see an overall reduction over the next couple years, in violations in general."
With so many tickets issued in the first year, the police department hired a new community service officer to help process each of the citations. That has allowed the police department to expand its operations.
"If that position can’t handle them, then the officers will take the overflow," Themas said. "So it’s actually freed up our officers to be back on the street rather than reviewing the citations."
"It probably surprised everybody," said City Administrator Dennis Bockenstedt. "I don't think anyone knew exactly what was going to happen."
Bockenstedt said the financial impact these cameras have on the city's budget is shocking, too.
"We've been bringing in roughly $150,000 to $200,000 a month, so it's been quite a bit of money," Bockenstedt said. "We're looking at a couple million dollars, like $2 million in the first year."
The $2 million received by the City is about 12% of it's annual budget, according to documents provided by Bockenstedt.
The big question remains: How is the city going to spend that money?
"Primarily, they're gonna be used for capital projects, capital improvements, such as streets, facilities, whatever is to be determined," Bockenstedt said.
That money could be spent on things like new fire trucks or squad cars, park projects or even helping grow the local economy.
"The most immediate discussion was surrounding using a portion of those funds as part of the economic development incentives for Fareway Grocery Store," Bockenstedt said.
No money has been officially allocated or spent on any projects or purchases, Bockenstedt said in an email. Those discussions and decisions will happen this fall at city council meetings and work sessions.
However, none of the collected money goes directly to the police department, Themas said.
"It goes to the general fund, and from there the city council officials and mayor decide how to spend it," Themas said.
The City will not, however, use the money for staff salaries or operational costs, Bockenstedt said.
Themas said he supports a long-term speed enforcement camera program within the City of LeClaire.
"However we’ll continue to evaluate the program on a yearly basis, look at statistics, look at numbers, look at the resources that are used within the police department and the city to manage the program," Themas said.
Bockenstedt agreed, adding city leaders will likely look at the benefits and negatives to having the cameras once that five-year contract is coming to a close.