Police push for new speed-timing devices

LEWISTOWN – Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not currently allow local police departments to use radar guns as a means of catching speeders, but that could change if the state legislature passes a new bill.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1272 and Senate Bill 1340 both are about amending the statutes as to which law enforcement agencies can use radar guns as speed-timing devices. Current law states that only Pennsylvania State Police are permitted to use radar guns. For the third time, local police are trying to get that changed.

Local chiefs Craig Weston, of Granville Police Department, William Herkert, of Lewistown Borough Police Department, and Scott Mauery, of Mifflin County Regional Police Department, all believe that amending this statute would help them and their officers better serve the community.

“Law enforcement throughout the state is in favor of the use of radar,” Herkert said. “Not only will this improve traffic safety, but it will also allow for better enforcement overall.”

The bill was reintroduced to the state House in early 2013 and has gone through several edits in several committees.

The early 2013 bill had a provision that explained only officers who complete a certification training would be allowed to use radar at the local level. Mauery said this is something he feels would be beneficial to officers at MCRPD.

“The more training, the better,” Mauery explained. “It makes an officer more credible and adds to any case that they would have to deal with.”

After the House bill was transferred to the committee on transportation, the bill was changed to read that radar can be used “by any police officer.” The bill then passed the House and now awaits further action as a state Senate bill in the committee on transportation.

Since local police are not permitted to use radar guns, they have to use other devices that calculate the speed of a vehicle. The Lewistown Borough Police and Granville Police departments use a system called VASCAR. VASCAR stands for Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder, which computes speed by using two fixed landmarks. The system provides a visual to the officer in the patrol car, who pushes a button to start and stop the timer.

“Our system works well,” Weston said. “However, having radar would allow us to sit in better spots, which could allow for better enforcement in all areas of the township.”

Both Weston and Herkert said radar guns would provide better safety for officers and the residents of their respective municipalities.

“Many of our calls for speeding come from neighborhoods where it is difficult to set up,” Herkert said. “Radar would give us versatility to go into neighborhoods to reduce speeding and monitor traffic.”

Mauery agreed, saying the system MCRPD uses, called ENRADD, is cumbersome.

“With radar we can just sit and then run,” Mauery said. “Our system is difficult to set up, and the way it sits on the road it is vulnerable to damage. The officers could also be injured by setting it up or taking it down.”

ENRADD stands for Electronic Non-Radar Device. The system uses small metal half-square shaped bars directly across from each other to determine speed. ENRADD differs from VASCAR in that the officer does not have to push buttons to start and stop timing or to know the distance between two points. This can potentially lead to fewer errors when the speeder tries to challenge a citation.

Herkert, Weston and Mauery all said this amendment has been a long time coming, and Herkert believes this time there is more support overall.

“There are more groups involved in the process this time around, and I think it has more momentum than previous years,” Herkert said. “One of the things that is helping this time is the Pennsylvania Chiefs Association is in favor of this.”

One local government body has shown support for the bill – Lewistown Borough Mayor Deb Bargo sent a letter to local state representatives that details the support the borough has for this legislation.

Mauery said he does not understand why local police do not have the ability to use radar guns.

“I would like to urge all lawmakers to go forward with this,” he said. “This would help all law enforcement departments out and will finally get us into the 21st century.”