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For Calif. police, laser is the new radar

By Katherine Rosenberg
Daily Press

VICTORVILLE, Calif. — It used to be that if you liked to speed but didn’t want to get a ticket, you could buy a radar detector and hope for the best. B u t that’s not a good idea in the High Desert.

Traffic deputies in the area use laser technology called Lidar to determine who is speeding and who is not.

While radar is still used on many cars and serves a different function, laser is not picked up by radar detectors. Even if you were to purchase a laser detector, the laser is only transmitted when a deputy shoots it at your vehicle.

“Meaning, but the time you’re locked in and the detector alerts you, it’s already too late. You’re caught,” said Deputy James Marshall of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Victorville station.

In Victorville alone, 2,860 citations have been issued so far this year for speeding alone, and about 90 percent of those come from laser clocking, said Traffic Sgt. John Mattke of Victorville.

Lasers can detect speeds from roughly 1,000 feet away and several models can calculate both speed and distance, while others measure distance only.

Those are used on scene of traffic collisions, having replaced the days when deputies had to physically measure out distances with a tape roller, Mattke said.

Several patrol cars used for traffic enforcement still utilize radar technology, and in those vehicles the radar can pick up speeds in front of, and behind, the patrol car.

The difference between the two is that radar picks up general movement in the area while laser pinpoints which vehicle is speeding. However, radar can be more useful when there are obstacles in the way of the deputy and the target.

All deputies who use either system have to go through 24 hours of training on how to determine speed.

Mattke likened the technology to a breathalyzer -- it can show a calculated result, but in the end the field sobriety tests rely on the deputy’s own judgment in deciding whether an individual is intoxicated.

It is the same with radar and laser: They are starting points, but the deputy must rely on his own experience and knowledge to determine whether the vehicle in question could have been traveling at the suggested speed, officials said.

In Victorville, there are nine laser speed and distance devices, four that measure only, and four patrol cars equipped with radar. The most expensive Lidar device sells for more than $3,000, and the city is looking into purchasing more in the near future, Mattke said.

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