State Lawmakers Set to Revisit Police Radar Issue, State College Chief Says Hearings a Sign of Change
The state House transportation committee is set to revisit the issue of police radar, a law enforcement speed detection tool that has been the subject of debate for years in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, State College Police Chief Thomas King says lawmakers' plans indicate change may be in the horizon.
For decades, law enforcement and other groups have unsuccessfully urged state lawmakers to allow local police officers to use radar for speed enforcement – and now the transportation committee is slated to review the matter May 22 at the Shawnee Inn Resort near East Stroudsburg, Monroe County.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow municipal police officers to use radar. Currently, state law only allows Pennsylvania State Police to utilize the tool. State troopers have been using it since 1962. Still, every attempt by municipal law enforcement and other groups to amend the state's law has failed.
The May 22 hearing is expected to be the first in a series of hearings regarding radar. During the first hearing, the committee will review the effectiveness of radar as a speed detection device for local police, which will include a radar demonstration by state police.
King, who is also president of the Pennsylvania Police Chiefs Association, says he is optimistic lawmakers may alter the law given the committee has scheduled multiple hearings about radar during the busy budget season, which sends the message lawmakers are taking the matter seriously.
Additionally, King says there seems to be a more broad-based interest in the matter this year, beyond law enforcement, which could mean lawmakers are likely to adjust the law.
"Maybe they realize this is a tool that we do really need to give to law enforcement to make our roads safer," King says.
King also believes recent data showing more deaths occur on roadways patrolled by local police than highways patrolled by state police may be the reason lawmakers are taking another look at the law.
Pennsylvania ranks third in the number of speed-related fatal crashes after Texas and California, according to 2011 figures compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That year, there were 1,286 fatalities in Pennsylvania of which nearly half - or 615 - were speed related.
Additionally, 87 percent - or 534 - of speed-related fatalities happened on roads monitored by local police departments.
King believes if local police were able to use radar the result would be an increase in speed enforcement, which would deter drivers from speeding and ultimately reduce the number of fatal crashes on local roads.
"We have to certainly arm our officers with the most effective tool to reduce the numb of people being killed," King says.
Currently, State College police use ENRADD, or an electronic non-radar device, to monitor speeding, which King says is just as accurate as radar. However, its more labor intensive to execute and includes a time consuming set-up.
When local police want to participate in a speed enforcement detail they need at least two officers – one to operate the equipment and a second to perform a traffic stop on the speeding driver.
A radar gun is essentially a point-and-shoot tool that only requires one officer.
The Pennsylvania Police Chiefs Association, Pennsylvania State Mayors Association and other groups say they want the state law to be altered by four words. The current law states:
Electronic devices such as radio-microwave devices (commonly referred to as electronic speed meters or radar) may be used only by members of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Proponents would like the law amended to say:
Electronic devices such as radio-microwave devices (commonly referred to as electronic speed meters or radar) may be used by any police officer.
The Pennsylvania State Police supports the proposed change.
House Bill 38 would allow trained, full-time police officers with 24-hour police departments to use radar. The bill requires half of any revenue generated by speeding tickets go into a fund for enforcement grants to accredited police departments. The senate has similar legislation that would alter the law.