Pennsylvania, said Cleona Borough Police Chief Jeffrey J. Farneski, has one of the nation’s highest rates of death from motor vehicle accidents.
So it boggles his mind, the chief said, that state legislators refuse to pass a bill allowing municipal police offers to use radar to enforce the speed limit.
“People are dying … it’s ludicrous,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I don’t understand the logic behind it.”
He’s not alone. John P. Leahy, chief of the North Cornwall Township police, said Pennsylvania “is the only state that doesn’t allow municipal police to use radar.”
State legislators have been discussing laws that would allow radar use in municipalities – Pennsylvania state police, Leahy noted, already have the authority to use radar – since he first donned a badge.
“I’ve been a cop now for 35 years. Every year it comes up, every year it doesn’t pass,” he said. “I’m not sure it will ever be approved in my career. … It makes absolutely no sense to me.
“I don’t understand the philosophy behind it. It’s another tool in our bag. The other options aren’t always working.”
According to statistics gathered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the loss of life and property from motor vehicle crashes, and the Highway Loss Data Institute, which provides scientific analyses of insurance data, Pennsylvania in 2017 suffered 1,083 fatal crashes, killing 1,137 people.
That compares to 933 fatal crashes, causing 933 deaths, in New York and 511 fatal crashes, causing 550 deaths, in Maryland that same year.
Only California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas had more traffic-related deaths in 2017, the IIHS/HLDI report stated.
“The number keeps going up, and speed is clearly a factor,” Farneski said.
Radar, police say, is much more accurate than the methods of speed enforcement that are available to them such as ENRADD and VASCAR, which require more officers and training than radar and can be difficult to use in a town setting.
The state ban on radar is especially frustrating to Farneski, who had been accustomed to using the tool.
“I was a New Jersey cop for 28 years before I came to Pennsylvania. I had radar in my car from the day I stepped into it in 1981,” he said.
“I get numerous complaints from local people about speeders, but based on the technology we’re stuck with, we can’t do anything about it,” he added.
Chief William Reigle, of South Londonderry Township police, said he was “optimistic” about getting approval for radar use – until he read the most recent bill being considered in Harrisburg.
“The restrictions that are incorporated in the bill are ridiculous,” he said in an email.
For instance, Reigle said, the bill as written would allow only 24-hour, full-coverage police departments to use radar. Each municipality would have to pass its own ordinance allowing radar’s use, he said, and they’d have to post signs announcing to motorists that radar might be in use.
“Just what we need, more signs that clutter the roadside for drivers to NOT read,” Reigle said.
The bill also would require officers using radar to be visible to motorists in marked police cars, and revenue from tickets that exceeds 10 percent of the municipality’s total revenue would have to be transferred to the state Department of Transportation’s Motor Licensing Fund.
That last measure in particular irks Farneski.
“They say it’s a moneymaker,” he said. “We don’t actually get much money from citations. It’s peanuts.”
The goal of speed enforcement, he added, “is correct behavior. Not to crush people with fines. Our goal isn’t to make money. We want people to learn from their mistake.”
Legislators, Leahy said, believe some jurisdictions might use radar enforcement as a means to increase local revenue by fining more speeders.
“But it’s not a revenue-maker, it’s to curtail speeding activities in areas that we cannot currently enforce … and reduce the number of accidents and traffic deaths,” he said.
“Legislators are politicians. Maybe there’s concern about their constituents being cited for speeding, and that might come back to them,” he added. “Public safety should outweigh that concern, in my opinion.”
Two state officials representing the area are cautious about approving radar for local police.
State Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) said he is “undecided on whether to allow local use of radar at this time.”
State Rep. Frank Ryan (R-101) said he supports the bill – but he wants to be sure police don’t use it too often.
“As long as the provisions stay in the bill that provide protection to drivers from communities getting to be reckless with overuse of the radar, I’m OK with the radar bill,” he said.
“I think in some cases it’s a lot more accurate,” he acknowledged. “But I need to make certain that those controls stay in place, because without those controls in place we run the risk that some individuals could misuse it.”
The state Senate in June approved a bill allowing the use of radar in municipalities – with all of the restrictions in place. However, the bill has seemingly stalled in the state House.
“This has been a recurring argument every year. It never goes anywhere,” Leahy said. “I don’t get it. It’s simply a tool to reduce the number of traffic accidents and deaths. I guess the politicians don’t see it that way.”
“I want it to change,” Farneski added. “Other local police want it to change. … We’re not targeting the areas that we should be targeting. But the politicians are hiding behind closed doors. What’s their objection? It’s in the interest of public safety.”
“I never understood why legislators didn’t think local police deserved to have access to this equipment,” Reigle added.
“The roads are dangerous and getting more dangerous with the volume of vehicles out there and the distractions (cell phones) available to drivers,” he said. “Radar use should be encouraged by legislators, not dangled in front of municipalities with many costly and unnecessary obstacles in the way.”
If the law is ever approved, Leahy said it wouldn’t take long to put radar in the hands of his patrol officers.
“It would be a matter of making the purchase. And that purchase would be immediate,” he said.
Training to use radar, he added, is minimal.
In the meantime, Leahy urged residents who are concerned about speeding in their communities to contact their state representatives and “tell them you want radar in use.”