Muscatine appealing judge's order to remove controversial traffic camera

Camera at University Drive and U.S. Highway 61 is too close to speed change

The city of Muscatine is appealing a judge's order to remove a controversial traffic camera from a city street. A Polk County judge says the city is not complying with current regulations, including the thousand-foot rule, which states a traffic control camera cannot be placed within 1,000 feet of a speed limit change.

Muscatine assistant police chief Phillip Sargent says they followed all of the Iowa Department of Transportation regulations when the cameras were placed. 

Sargent, who has been with the department for more than two decades, says recent laws make it nearly impossible to keep using these cameras.

"Our focus has been speed reduction going into that business district," he said. "Going to Walmart, the health clinic... the car dealership, the hotels... keeping them safe."

In 2010, Sargent helped push for the implementation of traffic control cameras  in the growing part of Muscatine. He says the results have made a difference in public safety.

"Activated in march of 2011, so for eight months it had 12851 speeding violations. That's a lot," Sargent said. "But by 2016 it had declined a little over half: 5,900."

The camera in question at University Drive and U.S. Highway 61 is only 850 feet from a speed limit change. Sargent says the new IDOT rule contradicts Iowa state law.

"In the state of Iowa the speed starts at that speed limit sign," Sargent said. "At that speed limit sign the Iowa State Patrol or any law enforcement in the county, the city or the state can start writing citations at that speed limit sign."

Sargent says the camera's main benefit isn't the revenue they produce, but they allow officers the time to work on other matters instead of writing many tickets.

"It gives them the opportunity to answer calls for service, to do proactive enforcement, community policing, problem-oriented policing and to interact with the public and address other crimes."

The traffic camera at University Drive and U.S. Highway 61 is the city's only one taken out of service. Muscatine's other four cameras are still in operation.

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