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Municipal police officers to rally for radar

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Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Matthew Jardine surveys motorists using a camera and radar mounted to the dashboard. State police are now the only law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania permitted to use radar for speed enforcement but municipal officers’ organizations are rallying in support of allowing access for local police departments. – David Singer/Observer-Reporter

 

For as long as Chartiers Township police Chief James Horvath has been a police officer, there has been debate about giving municipal officers the authority to use radar to enforce the speed limits on local roads.

Members of the Radar Coalition, which includes the state Chiefs of Police Association as well as local government representatives, have planned a rally Tuesday morning at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg to encourage the passage of bills in both the state House and Senate that would allow municipal police to use radar.

State police are the only law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania authorized to use radar.

Both bills are still in committee and the rally is to encourage moving the legislation forward. The coalition claims stopping unnecessary deaths on state roads begins with the passage of the bills.

“As long as I have been a police officer, we have been trying to get radar,” Horvath said. “It just makes sense. One of the most common complaints we get as a department is about speeding.”

Horvath said traffic is at an all-time high, particularly with the increasing number of housing developments in the township. He said both state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane Township, and state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, have indicated they support the legislation.

“This is probably our best chance to get it,” Horvath said.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow local police to use radar, Neuman noted.

“One of the biggest complaints I get in my office is about speeding drivers,” Neuman said. “Radar is the only way to make sure the roads are safe.”

“There are more vehicles out there meaning more traffic,” he added. “Radar is a way to keep everyone safe.”

Bartolotta said speed enforcement is an important part of the municipal police officer’s role in keeping our communities safe.

“Legislation that responsibly strengthens their ability to do this should be under careful review and consideration,” Bartolotta said. “That’s why I plan to closely review any legislation that comes before me related to expanding radar use for speed enforcement by our law enforcement.”

South Strabane Township police Chief Don Zofchak has also heard the talk about allowing local police to use radar during his 40-year career.

“I hope they are serious about it this time,” Zofchak said. “If it is good enough for state police, then it should be good enough for local police. We have the same training, so the lack of trust in allowing us to use radar is a mystery.”

Zofchak does not buy the argument that allowing local police to use radar would be a money-maker for the municipality since very little of the fine actually goes to the township.

“Radar would allow us to monitor speed in places where other speed detection devices are not practical,” he added, mentioning Berry Road, which leads to the back entrances to Strabane Square and The Old Mill.

Zofchak said his department has been fortunate to get federal and state funding for overtime that allows officers to do speed enforcement along Route 19 using conventional speed detection devices.

Mt. Pleasant Township police Chief Lou McQuillan said using radar would be helpful for his department.

“Because of our rural area, the parameters for using devices like VASCAR just isn’t available,” McQuillan said. VASCAR requires an officer to time a vehicle between two fixed objects, like lines on the roadway, using a stopwatch connected to a computer. “We have so many twists and turns on some of our roads we have trouble running that or a stopwatch.”

“Out of safety concerns, it would be beneficial,” he added. “And with radar, there is no margin for error.”

Carroll Township police Chief Paul Brand also believes using radar would be beneficial to enforce speed on rural roads.

“Radar can be utilized just about anywhere,” Brand said. The concern over the years is that local police would abuse it. But the main goal is the safety of the motoring public.”

“I really don’t understand why we can’t use it,” he added. “Municipal police are asked to follow the same high standards and training as state police. There is no real reason we shouldn’t be allowed to use radar.”

Waynesburg police Chief Rob Toth is also baffled as to why municipal police departments still can’t use radar.

“This has been an ongoing issue for a while,” Toth said. “It’s a shame. They’re worried about it being a money-maker, but it’s a more effective tool (than timing). The name of the game is to slow people down.”

In an effort to raise awareness about speeding, Waynesburg police periodically use a digital radar sign mounted on the trunk of a police car that displays a driver’s speed. They’ve shared it with Cumberland Township police, the only other full-time municipal police department in Greene County, to help with enforcement.

“It’s really great because it helps drivers to visualize their speed and slow down,” Toth said.

Greene County Bureau Chief Mike Jones contributed to this story.

Courtesy: Kathie Warco

 
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