Radar restrictions remain for police

State legislators are considering a bill to allow local police to use radar to catch speeders

January 15, 2014
State Trooper Andrew Zimmer clocks motorists with a radar gun from a state Department of Transportation truck parked along Route 21 near Paisley, Greene County, in this photo taken in 2007. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

State legislators are once again expected to debate whether municipal police should be permitted to use radar to catch speeders as they return to Harrisburg this week.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow local police officers use the radar for traffic enforcement, although state police are permitted to use the technology.

Several different bills to give local police the ability to use radar have been defeated for a variety of reasons over the past year, so the prospects for renewed debate on the issue are uncertain.

Mt. Pleasant police Chief Lou McQuillan said the hilly and winding terrain that is prevalent in Washington County makes it difficult to install speed zones where an officer can monitor speed with a specialized stopwatch.

“I believe (radar) would be helpful for the municipal departments, for sure,” McQuillan said. “We can have a visible presence, but we might not be able to enforce it as well as we can on other roads. It’s not that we don’t want to, it just presents more challenges.”

But the radar issue has been debated numerous times in recent years with no serious chance of passage. State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane Township, expects it to be reintroduced when another session begins Monday, but he’s not sure of the bill’s prospects.

“If it’s a safety issue, which I believe it is, I’d like to see the statistics that it would increase public safety,” Neuman said. “If it does increase public safety, especially on our roads in Western Pennsylvania, it probably should be done. Before we act, we need to make sure we’re doing it for the right reason.”

The issue has been brought up every session in Neuman’s three years in office, but has stalled. The bill is expected to be debated during hearings in the House Transportation Committee later this year.

Neuman said he doesn’t know why Pennsylvania is the single outlier on the issue.

“This isn’t a new idea,” he said of radar enforcement for local police departments in other states. “We’d be the last state to implement this.”

Southwest Regional police Chief John Hartman questioned why the technology is available to local police in other states, but not Pennsylvania. He lamented some people would view radar as a way to raise revenue, but he thinks it ultimately would improve traffic safety.

“Traffic enforcement is important,” Hartman said. “It saves lives and creates a safe environment. I don’t know why Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn’t have it. I can tell you that I don’t know of any particular unique quality that makes us any different than any other state.”

He doubted that local police departments would “abuse” the technology.

“Any tool that enables us to address law violations is good,” he said.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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