Regular readers of this blog know how I despise the idea of putting police radar guns in the hands of average citizens. I dislike them for a number of reasons, technological and legal.
I actually ‘possessed’ a radar gun for a short time back in 1977. It was ‘loaned’ to me by a friend in the Denver Police traffic division who promptly forgot that the ‘loan’ was for only a weekend. I ended up keeping it for eight weeks. My friend was curious about some weird readings he kept getting from the radar gun even when it was properly tuned and he wondered if I could enlist some electronics experts to sort it all out
In that same year Martin Marietta, the space rocket and satellite giant, had just built a four lane highway from its massive plant in southern Jefferson County all the way to the outskirts of South Denver. Nobody worked at Martin on Sundays so I had that four lane highway all to myself.
Each Sunday morning I would meet my attorney, some experienced electronics engineers from my TV station, and an engineer from one of my rival stations across town. We assembled a variety of cars, vans and trucks with the idea of videotaping the radar gun in action as we aimed it down the road.
The radar gun is actually very simple technology. You just aim it down the road and watch the digital speed readings on a small screen. When it tells you that a car down the road is speeding you just squeeze the trigger and it freezes the digital readout. The vehicle owner is then pulled over and given a ticket.
RADAR is a palindrome: It reads the same backwards and forwards, and the cops love to say “It gets you coming and going.” And that’s true, but what’s never explained is that many traffic cops don’t have a clue how these things work. After eight weeks with a half dozen engineers on a deserted highway, I know exactly how they work.
The radar, which stands for ‘radio detection and ranging,’ throws out a narrow-frequency radio wave that looks like a fat tear-drop shaped bubble down the highway. The radio wave bounces off the most reflective target in its field of view and the now-modulated wave returns to the radar gun. Understand that I said the most reflective target!
If the traffic cops sees a bright red Corvette coming down the road and the radar says he’s going 15 MPH over the limit, the Vette owner gets a ticket. Of course everyone knows that Corvette owners have lead feet.
But time after time on that lonely country highway we ran Corvettes at various speeds and various traffic configurations. We’d run the Corvette in front of a 9News microwave van and the radar gun almost always picked up on the van! A big van could be speeding up to a quarter mile behind the legally driven corvette and the speedgun pointed directly at the Corvette would come back with the speed the van was going.
Conversely, a speeding Corvette would often come back with a reading that bounced off the slow moving van. It’s because the radio signal bounces away from the sleek Corvette. But the flat front of the big truck reflects much more of the radio signal back to the traffic cop.
In other words, in many traffic configurations handing out proper speeding citations was not much more than a crap shoot.
My week-long TV series was highly controversial but won awards and the same experiment was duplicated by other TV News stations across the country.
All that being said, many police departments are now using laser speedguns which I highly respect. At least the officer gets a readout of the vehicle with the laser dot on its bumper.
Now, onto the HOA story. The police department in Canon City, Colorado has agreed to lend radar speedguns to volunteers from the Dawson Ranch Homeowners Association to check up on the speed their neighbors are going.
The terrifying ‘next step’ could be what some HOAs in Illinois are already allowed to do. They can physically arrest speeders. They can track speeding Home Depot trucks and assess fines against whatever homeowner was getting a delivery.
Putting police powers into the hands of famously incompetent and corrupt HOA board members is inexcusable.