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By Jordan W. Charness
It seemed so easy: aim at the car suspected of speeding; look through the laser site; centre the red dot between the headlights; and press the trigger. Almost instantly a result appears on the LED screen showing the speed of the vehicle in question. Not only that: pressing another button tells you the exact distance between the car and laser machine.
Although it seemed easy, getting the proper results required a team of dedicated and trained individuals.
A few weeks ago I was invited by police Sergeant Gerald McGrath to take part in an anti-speeding operation. I was afforded the privilege of seeing firsthand how these so-called “radar traps” functioned. You would be surprised at how many of my preconceived notions turned out to be wrong.
In the first place, these “traps” are anything but traps. An anti-speed operation can be set up anywhere that the police think people have a tendency to routinely speed. In this case we set up in a school zone on a highly travelled road. Though the speed limit drops to 30 kilometres per hour, many cars seemed to ignore this fact and the safety of the schoolchildren. An anti-speeding operation on that street makes a lot of sense; after all, kids lives are at stake.
Secondly, the police officers set themselves up on a sidewalk out in the open and were visible for several blocks. I’m told that the reason for this is twofold: firstly, their mere physical presence serves to slow people down; and secondly, because there are so many drivers speeding when the cops are in plain view, there is no reason to hide.
Contrary to popular opinion many radar traps don’t use radar at all. They use a highly accurate laser machine that emits a laser beam that paints a target only a few square centimetres wide. The old radar machines used to send out a fairly wide beam of radar that could conceivably bounce off of more than one vehicle thereby making it more difficult for the police officers to know exactly which car had been recorded. For the most part, these readings were accurate, but in some circumstances there was some doubt. If the special circumstances arose, defense lawyers could convince a judge to acquit their client.
The laser machine eliminates all that doubt. The red dot is centered on the car that a trained officer believes is speeding. When the trigger is pressed an almost instant sending and receiving of a laser beam is recorded by the machine. Since the laser only paints a very small area of the car there is virtually no way that another car will be picked up by accident.
When I say trained, I mean seriously trained. Officer Marc Boisclair is one of only two licensed laser machine operators. Only an officer who has passed a rigorous five-day training course is allowed to operate the machine to catch people who are speeding. The training course consists of four days of theory on how the machine operates, what mistakes it could make and how to avoid them, what the error codes are and how to fix them, as well as many other things. In addition they spend one whole day practicing with the machine and learning how to properly record the results.
I always thought that radar traps simply consisted of one police officer sitting in his car on the side of a road with his radar machine taking down anything across its path. However, the unit that went out to do this operation consisted of the licensed laser machine operator, another officer who flagged down the offenders, another officer who actually wrote the ticket, and a fourth officer who documented the time, the car, the license plate, the name of the officer who operated the machine and other pertinent information. In addition he made sure that the car that was stopped was indeed the car that the laser operator had singled out.
In addition, both the officer who issued the ticket and laser operator wrote up reports attesting to what exactly had happened.
At all times, the police officers were polite and low key. Even when some of the people they stopped decided to give them an earful, they remained polite and calm. After all the police are only doing their jobs; if someone has a valid defense he or she can always make it before the judge. The decision as to whether or not the driver was guilty is left to the courts and not the police officers.
The police simply explained why they pulled the driver over and what the ticket was for. Their attitude was perhaps best summed up by Sgt. McGrath who said that “there is nothing people like less than getting a ticket and a lecture. Either give them the ticket or the lecture but don’t give them both.”
When the procedure is carried out as smoothly as this one, there is no need for a lecture and you can believe that the chances of beating this ticket are slim indeed.