A police lobbyist in Pennsylvania complained recently, “All the work we’d done was eviscerated.” The work he did was gathering support for a bill allowing local police to use radar. The evisceration was an amendment requiring radar to be used for safety rather than revenue.
Bills to let local departments use radar are a perennial feature of state politics. Under current law State Police can use radar or laser and city police have to use less portable systems or rely on pacing. This cuts down on speed traps.
I remember driving south of West Chester. Every road had a 25 mph sign. Every little intersection with a dead end road had an all way stop. That’s a reason why state lawmakers haven’t been eager to set police loose on drivers.
SB 251 is doing better than its predecessors. Let’s look at what it says.
Radar tickets by local police don’t go on your record. A hundred little mayors of a hundred little towns must have salivating at the thought of speed traps where drivers can just pay with no consquences. Until they saw the poison pills.
Radar could only be used by properly trained full time police officers working for accredited departments that are open 24 hours. In effect, this sets a lower limit on the size of a city that can use radar. A mayor of a borough of 2,000 people can’t hire a part time officer to pay his salary with speeding tickets.
Revenue in excess of 1% of a town’s budget goes to the state, which sends it mainly to Philadelphia. The original bill had a 20% limit. A 20% limit allows the police department to be self funding and reliant on tickets to pay its officers.
Police must be in marked cars to use radar. They can’t patrol major highways without State Police approval.
As is currently the law for State Police, local police won’t be able to use radar to write tickets for less than 10 over the limit. This is not a major barrier to ticketing because state policy allows a 10 mph reduction in the speed limit in the discretion of the engineer. At least it will prevent people moving at the average speed of traffic from getting tickets.
I mentioned an engineer. There’s the third poison pill. Radar enforced speed limits must be set by ordinance and justified by a recent engineering study. Under current law cities can drop a 25 mph speed limit anywhere near a house. But they won’t be able to use radar unless that 25 mph is justified.
If this passes it’s going to be like California. Speed limits where police use radar are going to be at least distantly related to reality. Cities won’t make a lot of money because the state takes most of it. Enforcement will be driven by resident complaints.
Drivers will be allowed to argue that there was a ticket quota or that the purpose of the radar trap is revenue generation. If the judge believes the driver, the driver wins. But proving an illegal motive is hard. You need to find a smoking gun memo or have the officer admit he was following an illegal order.
Better to finish eviscerating this bill.
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