Is this year the year that local police departments finally get radar? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

March 30, 2021 7:16 am

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Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Hang around Pennsylvania politics long enough, and it’s a sure bet that you will see certain pieces of legislation sailing the seas of committee, like political Mary Celestes, doomed to never reach the shore or come to a vote.

One of the biggies is a bill that finally would allow Pennsylvania to join 49 other states where municipal police departments are allowed to use radar to snare lead-footed motorists, instead of Rube Goldberg-esque speed timing devices that make up for what they lack in reliability, with a difficulty for officers to use.

The proposal has been making the rounds for most of the last two decades that we’ve been watching state government, coming close a time or two, but never quite getting there. But that could soon change.

Or, y’know, not.

As our friends at PennLive report, the House Transportation Committee gave its unanimous approval on March 16 to a local radar bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, sending it to the full House for a possible vote.

In Bucks County, local law enforcement officers are welcoming the prospect of finally closing the radar gap.

“I think everybody in the five-county area would welcome to have it,”  New Hope Borough Police Chief Mike Cummings, the head of the Bucks County police chiefs association, told the Bucks County Courier Times.

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Organizations representing motorists, as you might expect, are less than thrilled about the bill, arguing, not without justification, that local police departments would use radar less as a law enforcement tool, and more as a mechanism to pad out municipalities’ bottom lines.

“There is no speeding crisis,” Tom McCarey, of the National Motorists Association, wrote in a recent email to the Capital-Star. “That urban myth is being used to scare the uninformed public and the legislators into stampeding [Rothman’s bill] into law at light-speed.”

“Tickets cost  $170-plus. Money that doesn’t go to the municipalities will go to the Commonwealth,” McCarey continued. “The Legislature has an enormous financial stake in voting in favor of radar … for municipal police …  Radar will be used to raise revenue.”

Rothman sought to assuage those concerns by building language into his bill that “says that no municipality could receive more than 10 percent of its annual municipal budget from the local share of speeding tickets fines,” PennLive reported.

“This is about trying to save lives on the roads and getting people to slow down,” Rothman told the Bucks County Courier-Times.

Rothman’s bill also would require municipalities that want to use radar to adopt a local ordinance authorizing its use, posting signs that it’s in use, and barring its use within 500 feet of any speed limit sign that denotes a reduction in a speed limit, PennLive reported.

The bill also throws an enforcement bone to the Pennsylvania State Police, which has historically opposed the bill and now supports it, by allowing troopers to run radar from moving vehicles. Local officers could only use radar from a stationary point, PennLive reported.

In case you’re wondering, the bill passed the state Senate on a 49-1 vote in 2019, but never came to a vote in the House.

Will history repeat itself? You’ll have to slow down to find out …

John L. Micek | Editor

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.