It may be a long way off or never happen, but at least there is now an effort.
By Greg Little
Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
By Greg Little
Updated Sep. 25, 2012 @ 2:39 pm
By Greg Little
Updated Sep. 25, 2012 @ 2:39 pm
» Social News
HONESDALE — It may be a long way off or never happen, but at least there is now an effort.
"Speed is an issue," said Honesdale Mayor Ed Langendoerfer.
Langendoerfer is talking about drivers speeding in Honesdale, a problem which continues to plague the borough.
What many people probably don't realize is that Pennsylvania is the only state in the country where radar to catch speeders can't be used by municipal police departments.
"It's an issue and it's not just in Honesdale," said Langendoerfer.
The law means that even departments in major metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can't use radar. Only the Pennsylvania State Police can use radar in Pennsylvania.
This is an issue which has bothered Langendoerfer for many years, going back to the days when he was president of the Honesdale Borough Council.
Since that time, he has been trying to get statewide organizations to recognize this problem and at least make an attempt to get the law changed.
Finally, that has happened.
The Pennsylvania State Mayors' Association (PSMA) recently drafted a resolution supporting an effort to change the law.
"There is not legitimate public policy reason why Pennsylvania municipal police should be denied a speed-timing device available to every other municipal police officer in America," states the PSMA letter released with the formal resolution.
"Moreover, allowing state police officers to use radar in the 1,714 municipalities where they enforce maximum speed limits, but specifically denying such speed timing device to municipal officers in the 848 municipalities where they enforce the exact same laws results in an unequal enforcement of Pennsylvania laws susceptible to a constitutional challenge," the letter continued.
Under current state law, only the antiquated "VASCAR" system can be used within municipalities.
Langendoerfer said that makes it almost impossible to enforce the law in areas like Terrace and Ridge Streets "and many of our streets," said the mayor.
The reason is the old VASCAR system requires lines to be painted on the roadways and then officers have to time the vehicles.
Additionally, according to the PSMA letter, officers who use radar can write people tickets for traveling 31 in a 25-miles-per-hour zone but the VASCAR system, which requires two reference points, requires a motorist to reach 25-miles-per-hour before a ticket can be written.
The letter also points out that state police officers can use the radar system on any curve or slope of a road while the VASCAR system "can only accurately time a speeding motorist on a straight level road where two conspicuous strips are placed and municipal police officers can be positioned to both time the motorist passing over the strips and chase the speeding motorist through the residential neighborhood to be cited."
When asked why he thinks this has never been addressed by the legislature, Langendoerfer said there is likely politics heavily involved.
The Pennsylvania State Police does have a very heavy lobbying presence in Harrisburg.
"I gather it's somewhat with the state," said Langendoerfer.
However, he believes with the newly-passed resolution, now is the time for citizens to demand action from their lawmakers.
The mayor urges everyone to contact Sen. Lisa Baker and Reps. Mike Pfeifer and Sandra Major and let them know their feelings.
"We are urging people to contact lawmakers," said Langendoerfer.
The mayor's association als thinks there is a fairness issue involved.
"The PSMA believes that how fast a motorist can travel in a municipality and the locations within a municipality where the maximum speed limits are capable of being enforced should not be dependent upon the uniform the police officer is wearing," states the letter.
Langendoerfer said the next step in the process is to make a presentation to the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs in an attempt to get that group to endorse this same plan.
The study used by PSMA was conducted by Richard Koch, A PSMA legal intern from Duquesne University School of Law.
It was an extensive study and produced some interesting reactions from police organizations around the country.
Koch did extensive research into the matter and found that some states address the issue directly in state law, some simply allow any police officer to use radar, some grant all officers the power to enforce motor vehicle laws "by whatever means they deem appropriate" and other states don't have anything on the books.
In those states, all police agencies simply use radar to enforce the laws.
In another part of the study, Koch contacted police departments throughout the nation and said there was a "distinct reaction" when they learned about the law in Pennsylvania.
"While speaking with several of these officials over the phone, many used adjectives like 'crazy,' 'wild,' and 'astonishing' to describe Pennsylvania's radar law.
Some of the officials were even willing to send email testimonials to be included in the study.
Thomas Clemons, chief of police for the Seward Police Department in Alaska said that "(a)ny law enforcement officer can use radar in Alaska. There is no written authority for this. It is considered part of their regular duties. Sounds a little too restrictive in Pennsylvania."
Retired Police Chief Wayne Sampson, now the executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, wrote the following:
"Massachusetts has allowed municipal police to conduct unrestricted radar patrols since the inception of the device. The only requirement is that the operator becomes certified to use it, which is a very simple one-day training issue. This is not even a question in our courts. It is not even a question of law; any officer is allowed to use the device. There is absolutely no justification to not allow a trained officer to use a radar unit."
Elliott Guttman of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety said, "Talking with a number of officers, we were astonished Pennsylvania has a law prohibiting municipal officers from using radar."
Said Koch: "This testimony demonstrates just how out-of-touch Pennsylvania's law is wit the laws, standards and practices of the 49 other states in the union."
In his conclusion, Koch said the legislature could make this change very easily by just said radar "may be used by any police officer."
He concluded that "such a simple change would go a long way to making our local roads safer and our local governments more efficient."