Published: Friday, October 13, 2006

Police spot speeders with laser

Mukilteo police Cmdr. Chuck Macklin was driving on I-5 this week when he spotted someone on foot aiming something at passing cars.

Macklin, the Mukilteo Police Department spokesman, could tell exactly who that someone was - a uniformed Washington State Patrol trooper.

"He was off his motorcycle," said Macklin. "He had a lidar."

A what?

Lidar, it's an acronym. It means light detection and ranging.

Ask Trooper Kirk Rudeen what it means, the state patrol spokesman will tell you it's a "laser speed measuring device." Ask me, I'll just call it a speed gun.

Anyway, I was on my street early Wednesday, driving my son to school. And someone on foot aimed something at me. As luck would have it, I wasn't speeding. I was startled, though.

At first, all I saw was a peripheral view of a man in dark clothes at the edge of the street, pointing a gun-shaped gizmo at my car. In these tense times, that's not a good feeling.

I didn't swerve or duck and it only took a quick look to see the man was an Everett police officer. Still, I wondered whether devices resembling guns give other drivers a bit of a fright.

"We don't hide behind bushes or hide behind billboards," said Sgt. Boyd Bryant, the Everett Police Department spokesman.

Bryant said people at neighborhood meetings make clear that "traffic is the number one safety concern. We're doing everything we can to remind people to drive within safe and posted limits."

My street recently had a radar trailer, showing drivers their speed as they approach. Officers this week have been stopping morning speeders.

I'm not complaining, except for that sudden sighting of what I mistook for a gun. Who wants to live on a raceway? My boy now has cross-the-street privileges, so I appreciate police efforts to make our busy street safer.

It's the technology I'm not used to.

"We had some complaints when we first fielded them (in Mukilteo)," Macklin said of the laser devices. "They could be perceived as a gun. I think people are so familiar with seeing them around here now, they don't elicit much concern."

Rudeen said laser speed guns are more accurate than normal radar, which "works on doppler theory and puts out a wide beam."

"It goes out and looks for the moving object, and hits that object and bounces back," Rudeen said. "Regular radar has a very wide beam. It's not quite as accurate. If a big semi and a car are next to each other, it may pick out the truck because it's biggest and longer.

"The beauty of laser, it's a pinpoint-precision device," Rudeen said. "The beam on laser radar is a foot wide. At a thousand feet, you can put a scope or sight on them - you either use a dot or a rectangle.

"For anyone who's ever shot a rifle, it's like a scope on a rifle," he said. "You put the dot or square right on the car and depress the trigger button. That releases the laser beam, and it reflects back the speed instantaneously."

Laser-toting officers can target a license plate and it "won't trigger radar detectors," Rudeen said. "These laser radars, the thing I like about them is the accuracy. There's no doubt I have the right car. They're deadly accurate."

That's good - I guess.

Rudeen said he's seen our once wide-open roadways become so congested "it's rush hour almost all the time."

"Commute times have doubled, maybe tripled," he said. "If you're driving, take a deep breath. You're not going to help matters doing something stupid."

In a road revision of the golden rule, Rudeen said, "drive like you would want other people on the road to drive."

Bryant has a similar suggestion. "Go to bed 30 minutes earlier, get up and leave 30 minutes early, you'll have time to stop for that cup of coffee," the Everett police spokesman said.

Remember, they're armed with more than good advice. They've got lasers.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or