Police: Radar Guns Help

Pennsylvania stands out as a singular anomaly when it comes to speed enforcement in the United States.

The commonwealth is the only state which prohibits local law enforcement from using radio-microwave devices, commonly referred to as radar.

The Pennsylvania State Police are allowed to use the devices, but authorization ends there.

Some local law enforcement think it’s time for that to change.

A bill currently in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives aims to broaden the list of departments allowed to use radar, but some police forces would still be left out under the legislation.

House Bill 38 would authorize full-time police officers serving a full-time department to use radar devices, provided the municipality they serve passes an ordinance allowing their use and the officer completes an approved training program. However, part-time officers and full-time officers of part-time departments would still be prohibited from using the devices.

Both City of Warren Police Chief Raymond Zydonik and Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser agreed allowing the devices will improve enforcement and safety.

“Certainly, the ability to use radar would enhance our enforcement efforts and increase motorist safety,” according to Zydonik. “Currently the tools available to municipal officers limit our ability to enforce speed in certain areas that are more suited for radar, at night and during bad weather. Radar only provides another method and would not be exclusive and certainly would not replace the methods we already have. It would enhance enforcement in general.”

“I’m for anything that makes our highways safer,” Mineweaser agreed. “What I’d like to get away from is… every spring we have to re-paint lines and at night it (current methods of measuring speed) doesn’t work. We should all have access to the same tools.”

Local departments currently use methods approved under Pennsylvania law to measure vehicle speeds in lieu of radar including: using speed timing devices gauging time elapsed between two fixed points usually designated by white lines on a roadway and then calculating speed mathematically, measurement devices which automatically calculate speed traveled between two sensors and by checking speed against a patrol car speedometer.

“It’s interesting that 49 other states allow municipal police to use radar,” Zydonik said. “Apparently Pennsylvania lawmakers feel we are able to use guns, Tasers and other more serious weapons but we cannot add radar to our arsenal for speed enforcement. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Pennsylvania’s status as the only state which doesn’t allow local officers usage of radar devices, such as radar guns, derives from a number of factors including a higher number of local-level departments, since many states have county-level or regional consolidated police departments, and concerns over the usage of radar as a means for municipalities to generate revenue.

In the case of revenue generation, Mineweaser and Zydonik both said concerns are misplaced.

“PA’s behind the ball,” Mineweaser said. “Why is it good for 49 other states? If they’re afraid people are going to sit out all day and do radar to generate revenue, maybe they should monitor that. Also, if you’re hammering lots of people for speeding, then you probably have a speeding problem in that area. You can’t sit out on the highway and do speeding every day, all day anyway. We’re too busy.”

“You’ll hear some legislators tell you that municipalities would use radar as a source of revenue,” Zydonik said. “That argument has been addressed in numerous bills over the years. Language has been added from time to time to keep revenues from speed by radar under a certain amount of the municipal general fund. Additionally, they have added and removed language which covers full-time departments and officers and even those with an accredited status. Each proposed bill adds and removes different provisions.”

Mineweaser expressed concerns the bill would leave some departments in the same situation they’re in now if passed.

“I don’t know why legislators go half way with this thing,” he said. “Why is it only the state police now and why is this bill only for full-time department? If you’re accredited and trained, then you’re trained. I’m glad they’re moving forward with it and getting it out to the local departments, but I don’t see why it’s limited to certain departments.”

According to Zydonik, radar’s accuracy is a big selling point.

“Radar certainly is more accurate and removes some of the human element associated with electronic speed enforcement,” Zydonik said. “Using radar just makes sense. To the citizens who are opposed to municipal police using radar, just stop speeding.”

Whether the bill will ever be passed into law is an iffy proposition at best. This is the third session of the state House of Representatives the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe), has introduced some form of the legislation and the legislature has failed to pass similar bills for years.

“I’ve been a police officer for 18 years and there have been dozens of proposed bills which would allow radar, but they just can’t garner enough support from the legislative body,” Zydonik said. “To those legislators who are opposed to municipal police using radar, stop the insanity and pass the bill. It just makes sense.”

“Is it truly about highway safety, or what is it about?” Mineweaser asked. “Is it about revenue? Is it truly about saving lives?”