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Police say Judge’s Ruling Ordering City to Pay Thousands Back to Drivers “Stings”

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The City of Des Moines will have to pay back drivers thousands of dollars in fines it collected from speed cameras. A Polk County judge has ruled the city violated the offenders' due process rights. The city's administrative hearing process is not mentioned in the ordinance that authorized the automatic traffic-enforcement cameras. Drivers who received a ticket - weren't informed that they had the opportunity to contest the violation in district court.

Police call that a technicality, but understand the judge's ruling. "If there`s an error that`s made in how an ordinance or a law is written, or the process that follows it getting those things straightened out is in the best interest of everybody," said Sergeant Paul Parizek, Public Information Officer for the Des Moines Police Department.

In reaction to the ruling, Jen Schulte, Government Relations Director for the City of Des Moines said that "The City was disappointed with the ruling, given that the basis for the Iowa Court's ruling had already been ruled on in the City's favor by the Federal District Court and the Federal Eighth Circuit court of appeals." As for the amount that will be refunded, Schulte said, "The City doesn't have the exact numbers, but those who never paid the citation in the first instance will not receive a refund, so the numbers of class members and amount of refunds is much smaller than is being reported in the media. It is expected that the total exposure to the City is significantly less than $80,000. In any event, no refunds would be paid directly by the City to individual class members, but would be done under court order as part of the class administration."

The City has not made a final decision yet on whether it will appeal.  

Meanwhile, talk to most anyone on the street, and you'll find that speed cameras are not popular.

"I don`t personally like them," said Ned Ulring. "I mean, just as somebody who uses the motorways in the area. Obviously, if i can avoid spending money that I wouldn`t otherwise, that is in my interest."

"I don`t really agree with them to be honest with you," said Carl Maerz. "I feel like there should be a cop there, someone that kinda recognizes what you`re doing. It feels like it`s a trap, like it`s a speed trap."

A speed trap to generate revenue but police say that's not the case.

"We`ve always said that this isn`t a money grab for us," said Sgt. Parizek. "This is about safety from the police department`s angle."

Drivers we spoke with admit the speed cameras do affect their driving habits, but question whether that`s a good thing.

"The ones who are aware would obviously slow down very quickly if they come into town, and they`re like 'oh crap' that`s where the camera is, I better drop ten miles an hour very quickly, you know, and if you`re in a four or six lane highway situation, you have a lot of traffic around you during rush hour, that would create a definite imbalance in people`s speeds and that`s when most accidents are caused," said Ulring.

But police say the numbers don't lie.

"We understand that there`s been some dispute over whether or not some crash statistics on the freeway actually changed, but we know that between late April, when we were ordered to turn those cameras on the freeway off and mid July, there were 35,000 cars that went through there at a speed of 71 miles (per hour) or greater, with a top speed of 101," said Sgt. Parizek. "You can`t tell me that`s safe."