RICHMOND TWP., Pa. - Police across Berks County are fighting for radar use, arguing that the method is a safer, cheaper and more efficient alternative for speed enforcement than currently-used methods.
"Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that prohibits municipal officers from using radar devices," said Fleetwood police Chief Steve Stinsky, whose department employs the use of roadside speed censors during aggressive driving enforcement.
"We're actually putting our officers in a greater degree of danger that's not necessary," he said.
It's a risk that sadly rang true in Spring Township in 2007 when Sergeant Donald Aiman was struck and thrown while setting up a speed device on 222.
With the current "speed trap" devices, officers are required to cross lanes of high-speed traffic to install the sensor devices, ensure alignment and replace batteries, he said.
Radar, which consists of a single, hand-held device, would eliminate this risk to officers, and allow for more mobility, he said.
"Officers [could] make more efficient use of their time if traffic patterns change… they could go to other high-accident areas frequently throughout their shift," said Stinsky.
While the use of radar technology would increase speed enforcement, Stinsky argues that it would only decrease the likelihood of accidents.
"It's not meant to be punitive against the motoring public. What we're trying to do is be out here to serve a public safety need, to try to slow down traffic and increase awareness of drivers," he said.
For months, municipal police officials and other advocates statewide have lobbied for lawmakers to pass a bill that permits municipal police, and not just state troopers, to use radar during speed detail.
Critics have argued that the bill would provide an unfair revenue generator for municipalities.
But, according to Stinsky, radar would serve only as an improved safety measure. He also notes that radar tools are far cheaper to purchase and maintain than the censor units used.
"There's a common misconception that police officers are going to be able to fund their departments by aggressive speed enforcement," he said, noting that the department retains only $12.50, on average, per speeding citation issued.
"We are here for their safety," Stinsky said.
On Wednesday morning, officers stopped 36 drivers during a "speed trap" set up near 222 South and Kempsville Road, where those cited were driving a minimum of 15 mph over the 55 mph speed limit.
The fastest driver cited was traveling at 85 mph, according to Stinsky.
The four-hour aggressive driving enforcement was funded by a federal grant administered by the North Central Highway Safety Network, distributed to municipalities with the highest concentrations of crashes.
In the area surrounding Wednesday's speed detail, Stinsky said they respond to an average of 30 crashes per year. So far this year, three accidents have been fatal - the same number reported in all of 2013.
"It's very alarming. The loss of even one life is tragic. Nobody wants to experience it," said Stinsky. "I would much rather have my officer spending 10 minutes writing a traffic citation than having [to] close down the highway for six hours to investigate a crash."
Calls made by 69 News to lawmakers within the state transportation committee were not returned.
69 News also reached out to local state police troopers for comment, but calls were not returned as of Wednesday afternoon.
Allentown, PA 18102