FORT PIERCE Dozens of St. Lucie County Sheriff's radar units deactivated months ago in a move that sparked controversy between deputies and their boss are on their way back, a top sheriff's official said Thursday.
Sheriff Ken Mascara issued a statement Sept. 11 the speed-measuring devices were being deactivated temporarily after receiving a "high number" of complaints from citizens who'd gotten speeding tickets something that hadn't happened in prior years. Only deputies in the eight-member traffic unit would continue to use them.
The move to deactivate the more than 30 units put deputies and Mascara at odds, with deputies saying the lack of the radar units jeopardized public safety, while their boss dismissed the complaints as "union rhetoric."
Sheriff's Chief Deputy Garry Wilson on Thursday said some of the units were being recertified this week, while the remainder would be done by about Dec. 12.
He wasn't sure whether the radar units that were recalibrated were determined to be malfunctioning prior to recalibration.
"It was the right decision to get them checked and make sure that we are doing the right thing," Wilson said.
The sheriff's office has a variety of radar models ranging in price from $900 to $3,200. They are recertified, or recalibrated, twice a year. They were recalibrated May 29, and were scheduled for recalibration Thursday.
Mascara had said he couldn't guarantee the devices would return to service after the recertification this month, but in a later interview he said they would be coming back.
Nate Ingram, executive director of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents sheriff's patrol and detention deputies, has said deputies felt Mascara "effectively handcuffed them" by removing their "most important tool for traffic control."
Mascara has said speed enforcement should be "one one-hundredth" of the way deputies spend a shift, noting they should be interacting with citizens or involved with community and problem-oriented policing.
"As the CEO of the sheriff's office, I know my deputies have so much more to do than run radar in their patrol cars," he said.
In October, he said about 200 people in the previous four months complained radar readings or the judgment of deputies might have been off, a huge increase over the handful received in previous years.
"I think that the sheriff's concern and the manner in which he went about it was the right thing to do to clear up any issues," Wilson said.