Bill would allow York County police departments to use radar
A bill that has passed in the state Senate could allow Pennsylvania's municipal police departments to use radar guns for speed enforcement — a first for the state.
Currently, state police troopers are the only officers in the state allowed to use radar, and that has been the case for decades.
But that could change if the bill passes in the state House.
“It’s so much less complicated and effective than what local police have to use now," said Tom Gross, executive director for the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and former chief of York Area Regional Police.
The bill, Senate Bill 251, passed in the Senate in November with a 46-3 vote. It's currently in the state House transportation committee.
Currently: Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not allow municipal officers to use radar for speed enforcement, according to Gross.
Gross, who retired as York Area Regional Police Chief in 2015, said this has been the case for at least 40 years.
Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said his department uses VASCAR and ENRADD, both nonradar devices that measure the amount of time it takes a vehicle to travel between points. The devices then convert that to miles per hour.
An issue with those devices is that they require more than one officer to monitor speed, because one person is timing the car and the other is pulling the vehicle over. Radar would be a one-officer job, according to the chief.
Additionally, Bentzel said those devices don't allow officers to track speeds in smaller areas, such as neighborhoods and developments.
“Some places we just simply cannot monitor or enforce speed because of the limitations of the device — where radar would not have any of those limitations," he said.
Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo said his department uses something similar, called VSPEC. It requires officers to put poles on the street, 5 feet apart, that then time cars going both directions, he said.
Rizzo said with radar, officers will be able to track speed in certain difficult areas, such as curvy roads.
“Radar would definitely help us," he said, adding some of the department's biggest complaints are traffic issues.
Sen. Richard Alloway, R-York, Adams, Cumberland and Franklin counties, is one of the sponsors on the bill.
Chad Reichard, legislative director for Alloway's office, said radar is "another tool to increase roadway safety."
"It's just a way to help prevent traffic deaths the best we can," he said.
Money generator?: Gross said he didn't know why radar use has been exclusive to state police.
Both chiefs and Gross said one common issue brought up often is the possibility of police departments using radar as a way to generate revenue by issuing more tickets.
“The argument that it would be used to generate a lot of revenue — there’s no validity to it,” Gross said.
Bentzel agreed. With each fine, he said, the municipality only receives half of the fine cost. The rest of the money owed as a result of the ticket and fine go to various other agencies.
“So this thought that police departments are going to get rich writing tickets, they’ve never gotten rich — they don’t get the money," he said.
Bentzel said Northern York County Regional Police stop 20,000 vehicles a year.
"I don't know that we can stop any more, that's regardless of if we have radar," he said.
Reichard said the bill has protections preventing municipalities from generating too much money. The bill, he said, would prevent a municipality from receiving more than 20 percent of the municipality's yearly budget.
In addition to the revenue cap, the bill also requires a muncipality to adopt an ordinance to allow police to use radar, according to the legislation.
Yorkers react: Terry Leese, of Dover Township, said he thinks use of radar will cut down on the number of speeders.
Flying his drone at Cousler Park, Monday, Jan. 22, Leese said he has seen radar used before to track how fast a drone is going. Leese, who flies drones as a hobby, said the radar is accurate.
"I think it would be great to catch some people who abuse the speed limit," he said of local police using radar.
Leese said he sees a lot of people speeding near developments.
Jerry Kopp, of West Manchester Township, shared similar thoughts.
"I think as long as it's utilized as a safety feature, it's good," he said. The money generated from potential tickets, he said, is a byproduct that is for "the greater good."
Donald Nace, of Dover Township, said he agrees local police getting radar is a good idea. He said he didn't think police are doing enough to stop speeding.
"How can you?" he said. "If the cops aren't there, (drivers are) going to speed."
Susan Hamberger, of Dover, also was supportive of radar. She said she lives on a country road where people "drive like a 'bat out of hell.'"
Hamberger said she also sees a road where many children play and people walk their dogs. There are cars driving by very fast on that road, she said.
"I'm afraid to walk on the road because people go too fast," Hamberger said.
Against: John Baxter, a member of the National Motorists Association, which opposes the bill, said his biggest issue is that posted speed limits are too low.
The issue, he said, is that local officers will use radar to ticket people for driving too fast on roads that have speed limits that are too low.
Baxter, a lifelong Pennsylvania resident who recently lived in Downingtown, Chester County, said that 85 percent of drivers on roads go at the speed that will not cause a crash.
The speed of that 85 percent, he said, should be the speed limit.
“The science will tell you where the speed limit should be set," he said.
Baxter said he moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in November because of his wife's new job but still follows Pennsylvania news and said he will likely move back in a few years when his wife retires.
He said speed limits are often changed because neighbors complain about the driving they see. Baxter said the science behind making the speed limits is ignored because of politics.
“I’m not against reasonable speed enforcement, there is just no provision in the bill that will protect us from nonsense," he said.
Future: Reichard said the bill is now in the House committee. Once the chair of that committee calls a vote, and if it passes, it will go to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.
It's unclear if the governor will support the bill. A request for comment from Wolf's office was not immediately returned Tuesday, Jan. 23.
Gross said he remembers seeing this being the top legislative goal for the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association as early as the late 1960s.
“This is probably as far as we’ve ever seen it advance in the Legislature," he said.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.