Editor's Note: This is part six in an ongoing series profiling the Citizens Police Academy course sponsored by the Old Saybrook Police Department.
OLD SAYBROOK - Even with a marked police SUV in front of police headquarters and Lieutenant Tim McDonald standing alongside Main Street with a handheld laser gun, several vehicles sped by him on a recent Wednesday evening.
Patrolman Jay Rankin and his canine Beny sat in a cruiser nearby and instantly went into motion with flashing lights and siren after McDonald radioed them about a pickup truck cited by radar and laser going 42 miles per hour.
The posted speed limit on Main Street is 25 miles per hour.
McDonald allowed residents participating in the Citizen's Academy to try out the department's laser gun.
"Point it right between the headlights," McDonald told them, adding that the detector will give the vehicle's distance in feet along with the speed of the vehicle.
The gun, when the trigger is pulled, emits an infrared laser light which reflects off the vehicle and comes back to the gun counting the number of nanoseconds it took for the light to make that round trip.
The gun allows the officer to target a specific vehicle, even one that is up to 1,000 feet away, which appears to be going over the speed limit.
"Laser units have never been beaten in court as long as they are calibrated," McDonald said, adding that the disadvantages of laser are that the unit must be either in front of or behind a speeding vehicle.
Radar units, on the other hand, measure the speed of a vehicle in a field area of approximately 400 feet.
McDonald said officers must go through training to determine which vehicle is the one that is going above the speed limit.
The test also measures to see if officers can predict the speed of a vehicle, within 3 miles per hour, based on the vehicle's distance and the sound emitted from the radar detector.
The window of the radar units in Old Saybrook Police cruisers allow the officer to lock in the speed of a vehicle going the fastest in a group of vehicles and simultaneously look for other nearby vehicles exceeding the speed limit.
This allows police to pull over multiple speeders at the same time, McDonald said, adding that an officer must use three ways to determine a vehicle was speeding through radar enforcement.
These include sight, sound which comes from an audible pitch noise based on the distance the vehicle is from the cruiser, and an actual readout display stating the driver's speed.
The signals use the dual bands of K and Ka, McDonald said, adding that while the X band was formerly used for radar, it was easily mistaken with retail security alarms.
Radar detectors, which are legal in Connecticut, can detect radar, laser, and safety system signals.
However, McDonald said, drivers do not have enough time to slow down if the officer is using laser enforcement or selective radar enforcement.
Selective radar enforcement allows an officer to press a button to instantly send out a signal to measure that vehicle's speed.
While the radar detector may go off after an officer sends out the signal, it will be too late for the driver to slow down in time.
McDonald said he finds it is easier to catch speeders when using radar while the cruiser is moving versus stationery.
Stationery cruisers tend to stick out, McDonald said, adding that drivers sometimes flash their lights at opposing vehicles to alert them of a speed trap ahead.
While there are radar and laser jammers on the market, McDonald said, officers can determine a vehicle is going over the speed limit based on how fast they travel a certain distance.
Even without an actual speed of the vehicle, an officer can give a $93 ticket to someone for going 1 mile above the speed limit, McDonald said.
While those receiving a ticket like that could fight the ticket, the officer could testify that they "took advanced classes in radar enforcement and knew the car was not going 35 miles per hour and estimated it was going 50 and gave the person a ticket for going 1 mile per hour above the speed limit," McDonald said.
Some who have went to court claiming they were not going above the speed limit mistakenly admit to the officer that they in fact were speeding.
Since cameras and microphones often record footage during a motor vehicle stop, this evidence is used against the accused speeder.